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7 mental health reminders for managing now (and always)

The statistics are disturbing. Across Australia, one in five people at any one time are suffering from some form of mental ill-health (primarily depression or anxiety). When expanded out to a normal human lifetime, half of all Australians will experience at least one period of mental ill-health.


Unfortunately, this sometimes results in people taking their own lives. In Australia eight people a day – or 3000 a year – end their lives prematurely. Three quarters of these individuals are men. A full 10 million Australians will know of someone or will be affected by the death of someone by suicide.


They are statistics that should encourage Australians to become more comfortable with having mental health conversations in workplaces. Here’s 7 tips from wellbeing organisation OzHelp that can support you to do that in your business now (and always).


Put your own oxygen mask on first


We can’t provide support for others if we have nothing left in the tank ourselves. To ensure we’re ready and available to have a real conversation, to listen and be able to support the mental health needs of others, it’s important to ensure our own mental health is taken care of first.


 “Think about what keeps you well. Usually it helps to monitor sleep, diet, exercise and things like alcohol intake, while staying connected with friends and family members when things are stressful, and even if you’re feeling down, continuing to participate in things that give you joy.”


Lift the stigma by being vulnerable


Make the workplace environment a safe one in which to have conversations around mental health. With a residual social stigma around the issue, particularly in some industries, giving employees the confidence to know it is OK to talk about and they won’t be judged is a powerful step forward.


 “Willing to be vulnerable as a manager or leader about mental health is important. Sometimes in positions of responsibility we adopt a persona of being bullet proof; it helps if you can show humanness to your people, to give them permission to talk about what’s going on in their life.”


Build in opportunities to connect


Ensure you have regular opportunities to catch-up and check-in with your team - especially if they are working remotely. Isolation is a key contributor to mental ill-health, and the ability to connect with colleagues – even through a screen – can help alleviate this through more connection.


 “During Covid-19 in 2020 we had a 4:30pm check-in every day to debrief and connect, see how people are getting on. Regular check-ins are a part of supporting each other. Be brave - don’t hang back from asking how people are going – a lot of the time if we don’t ask people won’t tell us.”


Get to know your people better


Get to know employees beyond their job description. With each person in very individual life situations, it can help to know some of the context of their home and personal life, to ensure that you are able to identify if issues are arising and be more accommodating and supportive.


 “You might have one person working from home with a partner and children, and another living alone or trying to care for an aged relative. It pays to be more aware of what’s going on in the fabric of people’s lives behind the scenes so you can reach out and respond in useful ways.”


Make time to have the conversation


When you’re in a position of having to ask an employee if they are OK, make sure you’ve set aside enough time in the diary to have a real conversation. While a quick check-in might be helpful, the ability to talk and listen at length without disruption can ensure your response is adequate.


 “If you are going to ask the question set aside the time to have that conversation. Try setting aside 40 minutes to an hour, so that you have the capacity to really ask how they are going, what they need, and how you can support them as an employer or as a manager.”


Redirect focus to areas of control


At any time – and especially during lockdowns - it can be easy for people to get swept away in a torrent of global and local events that they have no control over. While staying informed requires attention on the events of the world, help direct employee attention to what can be controlled.

 “Try to remain optimistic and ensure a strong focus on things we can influence. People can get really caught up with things like decisions governments are or are not making, which are largely beyond their control, and you can spend a lot of emotional energy on things we can’t control.”


Do little things (because they’re big things)


The small things you do to look after staff can make all the difference. Whether it’s an email with an unexpected compliment, a card in the mail, or a personal thank you in person or through a screen, small acts of respect, acknowledgement and kindness can add buoyancy to an employee’s day.

 “The little things mean a lot because someone is noticing you. In the current environment we need to keep people connected, seen and noticed. That could be something in the post for example. People will be happy to get something in the letter box other than junk mail and bills.”


A brighter future

Organisations that help to reduce the stigma surrounding mental ill-health in their workplaces will be helping any of their employees that might be going through a challenging time. After all, OzHelp says that we don’t have the same taboos around the issue of physical health or injury.

 “We don’t have an issue if we have a work accident, a sporting accident or a car accident – if we’re talking about the physical aspects we have no problem facing that and getting support, whether it’s the doctor, a specialist like a physio, we do what’s required to try and get well.”

“We’re not as good at doing that from a psychological perspective. We need to accept that it is a common thing and that we need to face that and have the right support crew around us to work through those moments, as most of us will have them at different stages of our life.”

If you feel distressed or you are worried about someone you know, please reach out to OzHelp on 1300 964 357 or call Lifeline 13 11 14.