S91: FEATURED SYMPOSIUM: Embracing Wellbeing: Workplace Mental Health

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By September 27, 2017 No Comments

Authors: Ellie Fossey, Greg Williams, Caroline Howe, Michelle Blanchard

Year: 2017

Event: 2017 TheMHS Conference

Subject: Symposium, Wellbeing, Workplace

Type of resource: Conference Presentations and Papers

Abstract: Increasingly mental health and wellbeing are recognised as whole of community issues with workplaces identified as places where stress, trauma and stigma can lead to unacknowledged mental health problems. Workplaces are being encouraged to recognise these issues and to put into place programs and strategies to assist workers to maintain or regain their mental health and wellbeing. There are economic, societal and personal gains in a healthy workplace.

It is estimated that at any time 1 in 6 working aged people will experience a mental health disorder, often associated with very high personal and economic costs. Mental health problems are a leading cause of sickness, absence and long term work incapacity and some of the main health-related reasons for reduced work performance. Individuals with mental health problems and their caregivers are some of the most stigmatised and marginalised people in the workplace, often missing out on the benefits that work can offer.

This symposium highlights innovation and lived experience in an area of importance and rapid change – the workplace. It will focus on a range of workplaces and the development of innovative solutions to promote mentally healthy practices while also supporting employees with mental health issues to return to work and/or retain their position and career opportunities. The symposium will consider workplace issues such as reducing stigma, managing exposure to trauma, increasing mental health literacy and creating an open culture, through innovations such as job design and employee assistance initiatives. Factors such as identification of early signs of mental health problems through workplace initiatives and strategies will be discussed.

Topic 1: Start with your Champions – Promoting Wellbeing
Greg Williams, Station Officer 6031 (retired Fire & Rescue NSW).

FRNSW has increasingly transformed the focus of its mental health programs to be more proactive. Working with the University of NSW and the Black Dog Institute, FRNSW has developed evidence programs for firefighters, increasing manager confidence in having difficult conversations and enhancing resilience of frontline staff.

Findings from Rucker (2017) concluded that an organisation’s wellness program should start with employees’ well-being as its foundation, and employees should have a voice in the way the program is designed. Furthermore, to the extent employees can have a voice and be involved in the administration of the program, the program will likely be more effective, viable, and thrive.

To help deal with the risk of psychological injury impacting their staff, FRNSW have endeavoured to shift the focus on mental wellness from a reactive to a proactive model. If you've got fire fighters that are talking with other fire fighters about mental health, they're going to listen.

The Peer Support Officer Program currently engages 91 active volunteers who act as mental health champions within their own local area commands as well as providing responsive critical incident support.
Champions from within your workforce, who promote mental health, are the best way to change attitudes and cultures in an organisation.

Topic 2: Look for the change
Caroline Howe, icare

A great deal of research explores the risks of psychological injury, delves deep into the statistics of people experiencing mental health problems and tries to assist us in being able to move through the quagmire of stigma attached to mental health. The phrase “RUOK?” Is now more commonplace than ever but do we really know what to do if someone says no?

Combining the lived experience with research this session explores looking for “The Change” and the practical implications of not being ok at work for both you and your co-workers. How do you know if someone is not ok? What do you do about it? How to self-manage or support someone else and how do you protect yourself. What environments create the pressure cooker of poor mental health? How do you know if you are suddenly sliding into suicide?

This session is about opening the Pandora’s box on mental health and openly looking at practical pathways forward for individuals and businesses to create psychological safe workplaces.

Topic 3: Supporting people with complex mental illness in the workplace
Michelle Blanchard, SANE Australia

While great advances have been made in Australia in the past two decades to destigmatise conditions like depression and anxiety and to create workplace cultures that support people living with mental illness, there is still much to be done to ensure that people living with more complex mental health conditions are able to participate in the workforce free from stigma and discrimination. This presentation will explore the experiences of those with complex mental health conditions like Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder and PTSD in the workplace and will identify opportunities to better support their needs.

Learning Objectives
Learning Objective 1:
The audience will learn about strategies and programs in several industries to promote mental wellbeing as well as decreasing stigma in the workplace

Learning Objective 2:
Increasingly mental health and wellbeing are recognised as whole of community issues. The audience will gain an understanding of innovative and rigorous approaches by employers and employees to mitigate the effects of trauma and to decrease barriers in achieving better mental health.

Harvey SB, Joyce S, Tan L, Johnson A, Nguyen H, Modini M, Groth M, 2014, Developing a mentally healthy workplace: a review of the literature. A report for the National Mental Health Commission and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance.

SANE Australia, Mindful Employer: Better workplace mental health, 2016, research bulletins on “Employment and Mental Illness”, “Working Life and Mental Illness”, & “The Impact of Depression at Work”.

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