This is a guest post by South Pacific Private who explain how management can improve mental wellness strategies in the workplace.

Psychological health is just as important as physical health, and yet in many companies it is misunderstood, poorly supported and lacking a clear strategy. The reality is that an estimated 45% of Australians will experience a form of mental illness at some point during their life. If we are being mindful of mental health, then we cannot ignore a clear correlation, nearly half of any workforce in any industry is currently experiencing a mental-health issue.

There are many things a company can do to improve their mental wellness strategy and it all starts with education (learning to recognise early warning signs) and clearing barriers to support.

Education about early warning signs

Education is critical and the recognition of signs that may indicate that a problem is present is very important. It is especially important in terms of the provision of support options for a person who may be experiencing the problem. Early identification can be an important factor in someone’s treatment and in their recovery.

A senior member of South Pacific Private’s therapy department shares,

“It can be difficult for people with depression or anxiety to take that first step in getting help – no matter who they are. If left untreated, depression can lead to deep feelings of isolation and helplessness, and these feelings need to be taken seriously.

The journey to recovery starts by talking to another person about the problem and to seek professional help. It’s vital that employees and their support networks know what options are available to them and where to ask for that help.” 

Common signs indicative of a mental-health issue

  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Easily distracted
  • Blaming others/making excuses
  • Late/absent for work
  • Disrupted/disordered sleeping
  • Less sociable and withdrawn
  • Loss of interest in food
  • Isolation/withdrawal from social networks and relationships
  • Irritability and frustration
  • Low motivation
  • Poor attention to detail
  • Taking risks/being reckless
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Fatigue
  • Increased alcohol and drug abuse
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Hopelessness/feeling trapped/out of options

The behaviours associated with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, alcohol or substance abuse vary across individuals. Behaviours may be exhibited as follows:

  • More frequent, prolonged and increasing in intensity;
  • Unusual or out of the ‘normal’ scope of behaviour exhibited by this individual; and
  • Ongoing, irrational or disproportionally extreme.

Recognition of and education around these signs requires a commitment from organisations to train and engage their management team and the broader workforce in the importance of supporting mental-health issues. Given that many people experiencing mental illness do not seek treatment, it is important to recognise the role that early recognition can play.

The impact of these behaviours on workplace productivity and safety must also be noted in any discussion related to mental health.

Create clear barriers to support

Why do people who experience mental illness hesitate when it comes to seeking treatment?  In research conducted by Lifeline WA and Edith Cowan University, findings suggested significant trends that provide clarity around ‘why’.

The report states: “Participants demonstrated a lack of insight into their own levels of stress and expressed a general reluctance to seek support. Some of the barriers to support-seeking included embarrassment, a culture of not discussing problems, fear of loss of employment if problems were openly discussed, and mistrust in supports.”

These findings indicate mental health is generally misunderstood and that pathways to support are not as clear-cut or transparent as they are for physical health- related issues. A clear cultural change is required if mental-health issues are to be recognised as health issues, as opposed to moral issues.

As a moral issue, mental health is stigmatised and associated with enduring prejudices. As a health issue, stigmas are diminished and treatment becomes a more acceptable option. As a result, the shame or fear associated with saying “I am not OK’ is significantly reduced.

Tips for your company

The processes required to create clear, consistent pathways to support must first be supported by the right infrastructure and education plan.

There are a number of strategies that can be employed. Here are some tips to get started.

1. Start from the top

Create a mental-health strategy for your organisation that begins with the management team.

2. Educate, educate, educate

Consistent and authentic training is a vital part of any mental-health awareness strategy

3. Assess pathways to support

Accept that current pathways to support may not be working and that you may need to re-assess structures.

4. Manager training

Sometimes the most powerful influence is a person’s boss. It is critical that line managers are trained to recognise the signs of mental discord and understand the importance of support provision.

5. Consider other factors

Organisational and job-design characteristics could be a mitigating factor and linked with mental health and wellbeing.

Mental illness is common in any industry, and the impact of mental illness in the workforce can result in significant costs to an organisation. It makes business sense for organisations to adopt an integrated approach to mental health and well-being.

Furthermore, it makes sense to start tackling stigma and other barriers to treatment in order to ensure the safety, productivity, well-being and health of your workforce.

Where to get help

One of the most challenging aspects of the disease of addiction, mental illness and trauma related conditions, is the powerlessness that friends, family members and in this context, workmates or managers may feel as they watch the problems unfold. 

Individuals who want to ask for help (for themselves or for someone they care about) can contact South Pacific Private 24/7. It’s as simple as calling 1800 063 332 confidentially or visiting our website for more information at www.southpacificprivate.com.au.

Other options include , Lifeline 13 11 14, Beyond Blue and the Blackdog Institute