It is estimated that nearly half of the Australian population will experience a mental health difficulty at some point during their lifetime. So whatever your background, industry you are in or organisation big or small – this means that you are very likely to either know someone in your workplace, immediate or extended family, or friends network who has a mental health condition or experience a mental health difficulty yourself.
Whilst recent times has seen increased awareness and dialogue about mental health conditions, especially with the introduction of the recent Model Code of Practice on Managing Psychosocial Hazards at work, unfortunately mental health issues are still often feared and misunderstood in the workplace. However, we can reduce this stigma through learning more about it and knowing where to get support.
In this article we shed some light on mental health conditions and some ideas on where to start if you are seeking support for a colleague or yourself.
What is a Mental Health Condition?
Often referred to as mental illness or mental health problem, a mental health condition is an illness which significantly and persistently affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. These patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours typically have a negative impact on a person’s overall health and happiness, and capacity to function in day-to-day life. Depression and anxiety are examples of a mental health condition. We can think of mental health conditions being like any other health issue such as diabetes or heart disease, and understand that it is real and treatable. Mental health conditions have both physical symptoms such as “being tired” or “having a headache”, and psychological symptoms such as feeling “down” or “worried”.
Some myths about mental health conditions include:
MYTH – Mental health conditions are a result of personal weakness.
FACT – Mental health issues are caused by genetic, environmental, biological, social, and environmental determinants. Experiencing an acute or chronic mental health condition is not the result of a character flaw. In fact, it takes great courage and strength to admit someone is struggling and to seek help.
MYTH – People with a mental health condition are violent.
FACT – Research tells us that people living with a mental health condition are no more violent or dangerous than the rest of the population. In fact, people living with a mental health condition are more likely to be victims of violence or self-harm than to hurt anyone else.
MYTH – Individuals with a mental health condition just need to learn better coping skills.
FACT – When an individual is struggling with their mental health, it is not as simple as just getting better at managing stress. Learning coping skills and implementing other psychological and life style strategies usually forms part of an effective treatment and management solution and has been shown to significantly assist individuals with mental health conditions. However, it is not helpful to dismiss the issue as “just learn better coping skills”.
Unfortunately, many people still query if mental health conditions are real, and think “don’t people just need to pull themselves together and get over it?”. The fact is that mental health conditions are a group of real illnesses that are medically recognised. Uninformed and dismissive attitudes towards mental health conditions continue to perpetuate the mental health stigma in the workplace.
Where to get help?
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, it can be difficult to know where to start to get help.
If you need to seek advice because someone has spoken with you about their mental health, or you need to talk with someone about your mental health you can:
- Talk with a trusted manager, colleague, or HR/HSE support personnel at work.
- Access your workplace confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
Make an appointment with your GP and discuss your mental health situation with him/her. They can provide immediate diagnosis, support, a management plan, and a referral if necessary.
- Engage with a qualified, registered and experienced mental health professional such as a psychologist, counsellor or psychiatrist. A GP is often a good starting point to make the appropriate referral to other mental health professionals.
Unfortunately, 65% of people with a mental health condition don’t actually get the support they need. It is important to understand that with the right support and treatment most people with a mental health condition will be able to manage or fully recover from their mental health condition, and lead productive and fulfilling lives, and participate in the workplace.
If you or someone you know needs help contact your organisation´s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), your GP or call LifeLine on 13 11 14; Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800; MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978; Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this document is not intended to be legal advice and should not be interpreted as such. Managers and businesses should seek appropriate counsel from relevant HR and legal personnel if they do not feel they have the applied knowledge for lawfully managing mental health issues in the workplace. In addition to the information provided, it is important to be fully aware of all relevant legislations and the requirements in your specific state or territory and your organisations applicable policies and procedures.