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When the going gets tough, we look out for our mates

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Originally published in Australasian Drilling - January


The true test of a business – its structure, culture, management and employees – is often found when it comes under increased pressure.

High workloads, a complex project, or economic uncertainty, may expose issues within a business and influence the potential for stress on employees.

Workers in remote locations, common to the resources industry, need to be particularly mindful of their physical and mental well being.

Living away from community supports – while balancing relationships with colleagues in and out of ‘working hours’ – means employees need to take responsibility for themselves and each other.

In a tough economic climate, people may take on jobs that, for one reason or another, ‘aren’t quite right’. The role may not match their skills, the project could be too risky, the work environment far from ideal, location too remote, or ongoing personal challenges may be distracting.

Despite these potential risks, the person will take on the job because economic pressures force them to ignore the warning signs.

If mental health issues such as depression, or even the risk of suicide, occur on the job - in the absence of health services - we need our workmates to keep an eye out.

Perth-based consultant engineer, Greg Ralls, works in the mining industry and experienced mental health issues during an industry downturn in the 1990s. Greg says his colleagues missed the warning signs he was displaying.

‘I’d been through what I identify as workplace trauma, two years prior to my unravelling, and when I fell apart it happened in a dramatic way’, Greg says.

‘It was a double-whammy of my not having insight into the situation and nobody else noticing what was going on’, he says.

So what’s our responsibility as an employer, employee, or colleague? And what can we do to help? At Mindful Employer – SANE’s workplace mental health program – we say it can be as simple as transparency and honesty.

If someone appears to be showing signs of distress, behaving out of character, or failing to meet workplace expectations, find an appropriate moment to ask if they’re feeling okay. If the answer is ‘no’, be understanding and encourage them to speak to a GP, an employee assistance program, or support service such as SANE Helpline 1800 18 SANE (7263) or
Lifeline 13 11 14. Consider workplace adjustments – roster changes, role changes, or location changes – to help them in the short-term.

Greg says it can be as easy as being open, honest, and having the courage to simply ask if someone is okay.

‘Looking back on it, having lived through that major disruption in my life – hearing “voices”, being diagnosed with schizophrenia and taking years to recover – I’m now a big advocate for people in workplaces looking out for each other,’ Greg explains.

‘Take note of changes in your workmates’ behaviour. Look for anything said or done out of character. It could signal a mental health issue’.

‘Have a word in private with the person, share your concern for their wellbeing, and if that doesn’t help, suggest they seek advice. It might ultimately make a huge difference in the other person’s life. And if you’re fortunate enough to recognise within yourself that you’re struggling, do something for your own benefit. Don’t be afraid to seek help. An attitude of “She’ll be right, mate” isn’t necessarily going to work. We’ve got to be smarter than that’, he says.

Mindful Employer is a workplace mental health-training program for all Australian businesses. The program offers eLearning and face-to-face training that gives managers and
employees essential information and skills for dealing with mental health in the workplace.


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