Many managers in Australian workplaces are uncomfortable talking about mental illness at work. Leaders, at all levels of an organisation, need to ensure they have the knowledge and skills to manage mental illness for the benefit of all.
By raising an organisation’s mental health literacy an employer can increase employees’ knowledge of the symptoms and warning signs. In turn, this brings awareness of one’s own mental health – and what can be done to alleviate or manage symptoms – and greater support for others experiencing mental illness.
Stigma is an inaccurate, harmful opinion or judgement held by individuals or a society. It can include stereotypes, false assumptions, or negative attitudes. If these judgements are acted upon, this may be considered discriminatory.
Discriminating against someone at work can be unlawful under the Disability Discrimination Act, 1992.
There are three key elements that need to be considered when dealing with stigma:
- Knowledge – We require the correct information to ensure that we understand mental illness.
- Attitude – Incorrect knowledge of mental illness creates attitudes that are misinformed and unhelpful.
- Behaviour – Our misinformed attitudes cause inappropriate and often discriminatory behavior.
Stigma stops people asking for help and getting the treatment and support they need.
With the appropriate knowledge and understanding of mental illness, managers need to start talking about mental illness at work.
Starting the conversation with your team
Meetings that are part of the normal work routine provide a neutral, open and non-confronting forum to discuss mental health.
When discussing mental health with your team you could consider including some of these points:
- The prevalence rates in the Australian community - around 20% of Australians are affected by mental illness every year and 45% will experience a mental illness in their lifetime.
- Most people will be affected by mental illness in their lifetime in one way or another, either personally or through family and friends. Almost every workplace will therefore have staff with experience of mental illness.
- Just like physical illness, mental illness can affect us irrespective of age, job, background or personality.
- Everyone responds differently to the stresses of life and it is common to describe ourselves as ‘stressed’, ‘anxious’, ‘sad’, ‘unmotivated’ or ‘depressed’. Sometimes, these feelings can become serious enough seek professional advice.
- Mental illness may develop as a result of an event in our professional or personal life – or it can just happen.
Your HR department may have additional suggestions on how to start the discussion with your team. If employees are encouraged to seek help early, it can minimise the impact on their professional and personal lives.
For more information on supporting people in the workplace, visit Mindful Employer.