Employees should play a part in creating a mentally healthy workplace

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A recent survey by law firm MinterEllison has found almost three-quarters of Australian workplaces have no formal policy or procedure for managing staff mental health issues. Clear policies are crucial to encourage good mental health in the workplace, as is strong leadership to implement them.

It is not enough for a workplace to provide a phone number for counselling sessions. Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace, which includes identifying mental health risks in the workplace and taking action to mitigate these. While this must be led from the top, employees also have a responsibility.

Australian states and territories recognise the importance of mental health awareness throughout the month of October, with World Mental Health Day on the 10th. AccessEAP, a corporate psychology organisation which supports and develops positive organisational behaviour, is encouraging employees of organisations to also play a role in forming a mentally healthy workplace by supporting others and taking responsibility for their own mental health.

“Good mental health begins when we all take responsibility for our own health and wellbeing,” says Sally Kirkright, CEO of AccessEAP. “This can be achieved through exercise, diet, building resilience, meditation, time management and discussing concerns with management. For office workers, it can be as simple as stepping away from the desk to have a stretch.

“If employees believe their organisation is taking a back seat approach to assisting staff with mental health concerns, they should make it known to management. Contributing ideas and making a mentally healthy workplace part of the daily norm is in everyone’s best interest. Employees can play a significant role in shaping workplace attitudes and the overall working environment.”

AccessEAP shares some tips on how employees can help make a difference, within their workplace and on a personal level:

Connect with your colleagues

Get to know your colleagues and take the time to talk to them. Considering we spend most of the day with our colleagues, we should be able to recognise if there is a change in their mood or behaviour. Whether they are just having a bad day or it is something more serious, having a conversation with a colleague can help them open up and if necessary, seek support.

Educate yourself and others

Understanding the signs of mental health can help to keep yourself in check and recognise if someone is going through a tough time. Just as most of us know how to administer first aid, we should all be trained to reach out to those dealing with mental health issues so that they feel less vulnerable, fearful and more accepted by society.

Manage stress levels

Stress is a part of everyday life. It can be good in a sense when working under pressure in order to meet a deadline, but when stress is prolonged, it can lead to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Understanding your main triggers in the workplace and working with a manager to address them can help to manage stress levels. It is important to have a work-life balance that includes taking regular breaks, speaking up if you are feeling overwhelmed, attending social activities, eating well, regular exercise and getting a good night’s sleep each night.

Disclosure of a mental health condition

Deciding to disclose a mental health condition to your employer is very much a personal choice. Having an open discussion with your employer can lead to them making adjustments that allow you to continue to work productively and it may help improve your health, especially if you are going through a tough time. This may include flexible hours and/or reduction in tasks for a time period.

Creating a mentally healthy workplace requires commitment from the top, but employees also need to be responsible for their own mental health and help to reduce the stigma associated. Together, employees can create a supportive, responsive and productive working environment that benefits all.