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  • Writer's pictureKsenia Wagensveld

Starting a conversation with Mental Health Week

Mental Health Week is about to draw to a close, and I'm curious as to how workplaces promote or engage with this hot topic. After all when it comes to difficult workers compensation claims and workforce capacity the Mental Health of your workforce has a big part to play. When it comes to Mental Health at work, there are two significant but very different conversations to be had. The first is about the psychological injuries that can be inflicted by the workplace, and the second is about the general mental wellness of your staff (non-work-related), that will still have a significant impact on your workplace.

Suicide has a serious impact on workplaces.

With the first topic that we WHS professionals get all excited about is the work-related psychological injuries. The cost of work-related psychological injury is enormous and only very small decreases have occurred in the last 10 years. (Safe Work Australia, The Incidence of Accepted Workers’ Compensation Claims for Mental Stress in Australia, April 2013). The estimated cost of psychological injury claims is $480million nationally. While the proportion of all serious compensable injuries is only about 6%, they make up a much greater cost owing to the time taken to recover and return to work. The Work-related Mental Disorders Profile 2015 report published by Safe Work Australia assessed the average cost of mental stress claims to be 2-3 times higher than the average of all other serious claims at $23,600 per claim.

The state of mental health in Australian workplaces report

To assess the cost of Mental Health on Australian workplaces is far more difficult to assess owing to the lack of clear reporting, but some reports indicate that 1 in 5 Australian Workers surveyed has taken time off in the last 12 months because of mental health.

Just take some time to think about when you've been in a workplace where it seemed that somebody was perhaps dealing with a mental illness and it wasn't being dealt with. How did that impact your other workers? How did that impact productivity? The chances are you didn't know what to do, and neither did anybody else. Considering that suicide is the leading cause of death for males aged 25–44 years and females aged 25–34 years, there's a very real possibility that mental illness and suicide will have a great impact on workplaces at some time.

So... what can you do...?

The good news is that there are a lot of free resources to help businesses of all sizes come up with a strategy for improving the mental well being of your workplace.

Mental health in the workplace can be managed.

For work-related psychological disorders, as with any other workplace hazard, you will need to identify triggers and assess their potential impact on your workplace as part of your WHS or human resources risk management Framework.​

The key aspects to consider when assessing psychological impact of your workplace are the likelihood of:

  • work-related bullying and harassment,

  • work-related fatigue,

  • work-related stress, and

  • work-related violence.

The People at Work tools freely available on government websites can you help you make these assessments, with more information on contributors to workplace stress.

The team at Heads Up also provide simple free tools to help small business develop plans to achieve a mentally healthy workplace.

The key is to communicate with your staff and understand if they have any concerns and if they have any ideas to contribute to a mentally healthier workplace. When you have a plan, discuss it with your employees and see if you think it will suit.

When problems become apparent, don't ignore them, but look for ways to help your employees access the right kind of help. Courses are also available in Mental Health first aid, and helping employers and managers identify the difference in how to manage performance and mental health issues.

Finally, once everything has failed and you have an employee absent because of psychological illness or injury, then you need to have a plan to bring them back to work, just like any other injury. Keep employees involved in your workplace and help get better at work for a sustainable and productive return. See There's nothing like getting back for getting better.

And of course you can get involved with any of the organisations below and help your employees access them when needed.

Try starting with an RU OK promotion for mental health awareness and suicide prevention
Beyond Blue provide crisis support and resources for managing mental health issues at work
The Black Dog Institure provide really useful resources to deal with depression at work
Access Lifeline for support

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