CEO Update - Workplaces have a pivotal role to play in creating a supportive culture around mental health…

 CEO Update, Mental Health Australia


Speaking frankly...                                       

Workplaces have a pivotal role to play in creating a supportive culture around mental health…

Earlier this month, a journalist at The West Australian newspaper responded to our report on the economics of investment in mental health: Investing to Save. He said increased investment and better support services can only be effective when accompanied by a “supportive workplace and community culture” around mental health. And he’s right.

Regardless of how good and easily accessible mental health services are, stigma - unless addressed - will continue to prevent people talking about their struggles and accessing support.

And nowhere is mental health stigma more prevalent and pernicious than in the workplace. We know that mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces approximately $12.6 billion per year in lost productivity. We also know that workplaces can either foster an environment that promotes help seeking, or they can discourage it.

Much needs to be done in our workplaces to break down stigma and create the supportive culture that makes recovery possible. And it’s not just about improving the bottom line. It’s about improving the mental health of individuals and restoring their capacity to lead full and contributing lives not just as employees; but as parents; family members; carers; friends and fellow community members.

Late last year the Victorian Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton took leave to focus on his mental health. This sent a powerful and supportive message to members of the forces that will hopefully empower others to recognise when they are struggling, and to talk openly and authentically about their own experiences in what is a very stressful and demanding line of work.

Ashton’s example demonstrates the critical role that leaders within organisations play in influencing workplace culture. Not only that. It shows that if unhealthy attitudes to mental illness can be turned on their head in an institution like Victoria Police - an institution built on the physical and emotional endurance of its members, on the denial of vulnerability - surely these attitudes can be turned on their head in any workplace.   

Our own workplaces - organisations working in mental health - are by no means immune from these challenges. We are often trying to do so much with so little, against resistance that is so strong, and with expectation that is so high. We must find ways of leading by example, of “being the change that we seek”.  We will surely make mistakes, but we must find ways of overcoming barriers that perpetuate unhelpful behaviours and attitudes.

Earlier this week I attended a meeting of the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance which brings together mental health advocates and representatives from business and government to drive change in workplace culture. This was an opportunity to explore further the implications for Australian workplaces of the broader societal shift we are seeing towards a more positive and supportive view of mental illness.

Workers want psychological safety, freedom from stigma and discrimination, and access to help when they need it. Employers want practical tools to gauge the health of their workplaces, practical assistance to implement change, and help to separate quality evidence based-interventions from the snake oil.

As the Investing to Save report demonstrates, it is in the financial interests of both workplaces and the broader economy to protect and preserve employee mental health. Simple strategies such as increased job control and formal therapeutic training would produce a collective $4.6 billion in savings for Australian workplaces.

As the blurred boundary between work life and private life becomes ever more obscured (I am writing this update on my day off…), and as many of us spend up to half our waking hours at work, the focus on workplaces to implement strategies to protect and improve the mental health of Australians will amplify.

Warm regards.

Frank Quinlan

Chief Executive Officer

Next Week 

Next week, I will participate in teleconferences with the Global Coalition on Youth Mental Health and with new CEO of Suicide Prevention Australia, Nieves Murray.

On Wednesday, I will be at Parliament House for some discussions on mental health. Following these, I will attend the first day of the Australian National Advisory Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ANACAD) meeting.

After the second day of the ANACAD meeting on Thursday, I will attend the launch of ReachOut and Mission Australia's report Lifting the weight: understanding young people’s mental health and services needs in regional and remote Australia, also at Parliament House.


Mental Health Australia Member Profiles

Headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, provides early intervention mental health services to young people age 12-25. Support and assistance focuses on the following core areas: mental health, physical health, work and study support, and alcohol and other drug services. Headspace centres are located across metropolitan, regional and rural areas of Australia and are there to help young people access health workers, psychologists, social workers, counsellors and other kinds of support.
Website is external)

Centacare Catholic Diocese of Ballarat deliver an extensive range of social welfare and outreach services across the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat and the Western District of Victoria. Their services aim to support individuals, families and communities by empowering people to bring about positive change and build community capacity.



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