What is Mental Health?
Mental illness is defined as “a clinically diagnosable disorder that significantly interferes with an individual’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities” and healthy mental health is defined by the World Health Organisation as “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
Over one million people in Australia have depression and more than two million are experiencing anxiety. On average, eight people take their lives every day in Australia. As a result, mental health has become one of the most advocated areas of healthcare in Australia, and rightly so with so many of us being affected. One area that is often overlooked is how mental health is impacting the workplace as well as how colleagues can support each other in difficult times. It is great to see that there are now programs in place to help educate employees and managers about how to recognise mental health and how to support those who are struggling.
Mental Health in the Workplace
The NSW Mentally Healthy Workplaces Strategy 2018-2022 is a program designed to deliver programs and education to workplaces across NSW to address mental health. It is the largest government investment to date into mental health in the workplace which includes awareness raising, evidence-informed interventions, research and building employer capability.
One such program is run through the Black Dog Institute which we were fortunate to participate in late last year. The workplace training involved two sessions, “Mental Health Skills Training” for all employees and “Mental Health Training for Managers”. The program covered what mental health is, how to recognise changing behaviours in colleagues that may be linked to mental health concerns, how to have effective conversations with colleagues you think may be struggling, benefits of remaining at work when dealing with mental health issues vs benefits of staying at home, and 5 ways to help your wellbeing.
What our staff thought about the Black Dog Institute Mental Health Skills Training:
“While you see and hear about Mental Health a lot on social media, you rarely hear about it in the workplace, as if it just stops the moment you walk in the office doors. I found the workshop effective in bringing it to a workplace context and solely focusing on “Mental Health in the Workplace”. I feel the workshop showed that no, it doesn’t stop/turn off and that your workplace is actually a place that not only understands but can also provide support and resources to help you! I feel there isn’t a place out there that wouldn’t benefit from taking the workshop!”.
“Mental Health is always something I had associated with family and friends, it was good to be educated on how to help people that I work with. We spend so much time with each other in a workplace, it is important that we can all support each other personally as well as professionally. I would recommend this course to anyone that can participate”.
Other helpful Workplace Mental Health initiatives:
R U OK Day
R U OK?Day is a day when we’re reminded to ask, “Are you OK?” and to remember that every day of the year we should support people who may be struggling with life’s ups and downs. Organised by R U OK?, a national charity dedicated to inspiring all of us to have regular, meaningful conversations to support anyone struggling with life’s ups and downs; there are also multiple resources available for having conversations in the workplace with anyone that may be struggling, how to recognise the signs of struggles in a colleague and specific resources for the workplace, schools, universities and TAFEs, your local community as well as specific industries such as Emergency Services, Hospitality and Rail.
Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a work-based early intervention aimed at the early identification and /or resolution of both work and personal problems that may adversely affect performance. These problems may include, but are not limited to health, marital/relationships, family, financial, substance abuse or emotional concerns. The specific core activities of EAPs include:
- expert consultation and training in the identification and resolution of job-performance issues related to the aforementioned employee personal concerns;
- confidential and timely problem-assessment, diagnosis, treatment or referral to an appropriate community resource;
- the formation of internal and external linkages between the workplace and community resources not available within the scope of the EAP.” 
EAP programs are available within most organisations.
A website run by Beyond Blue and The Mentally Health Workplace Alliance to provide resources and training for mental health in the workplace.
 Australian Government Department of Health, 2014, National Mental Health Policy, Australian Government Department of Health, < https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/mental-pubs-n-pol08>
 World Health Organisation, 2019, Mental Health, World Health Organisation, < https://www.who.int/mental_health/en/>
 NSW Government, 2018, NSW Mentally Healthy Workplaces Strategy 2018-22, Catalogue No. SW09010 0918.
 Employee Assistance Professional Association of Australasia, 2009, About EAPAA, Employee Assistance Professional Association of Australasia, < https://www.eapaa.org.au/site/about/>
Black Dog Institute
Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Head to Health
Suicide Call Back Service
National Health Services Directory
Australian Psychologists Society