Articles, Blog

Living [email protected]: mental illness, the workplace and breaking down stigma

January 26, 2020


Thank you. Wonderful. Hello. How are you? It is so good to have you here. This is a community forum so we are going to involve you along the way. None of this 10 minutes at the end business. You are part of this conversation. And I really do believe that events like this are fundamental to shifting the stigma. One in five of us in Australia in the past year have taken time off work because of mental health challenges Work is so vital isn’t it? It’s so crucial. It’s a big part of who we are. We pour a lot of energy into it. If we’re lucky to have paid work, it helps pay for our rent, our mortgages. Put food on the table. But it’s also about giving us meaning and purpose in life. It’s vital. There is an expectation at work that somehow we’re going to be 100% on the game every working hour and that’s just not realistic. We’re human! So when we’re stressed or anxious or depressed, work doesn’t really feel like a safe or inclusive or welcoming environment. So instead we worry about what our boss might think if we did say that we’re feeling unwell or not up to scratch. We worry about losing face We worry about losing our job. We worry about not getting a promotion the next time we want to go for one. All those anxieties come up. And sometimes workplaces handle these things incredibly poorly and punitively. Others are quite enlightened on it and we’re going to meet a couple of employers who’ve really walked this path and thought carefully about how they engage with these themes at work. And apparently there’s now $200 million dollars spent on compensation claims that are mental health related each year in Australia. That’s an extraordinary figure isn’t it. And it raises profound questions for me about are we actually navigating mental health and mental illness in the workplace very well at all. I suspect not if it’s landing in a compensation claims process. So let me welcome without further ado our special guests on the panel today, please welcome Dr Sam Harvey. He is a consultant psychiatrist. And Associate Professor in workplace mental health at the University of New South Wales. He’s a research fellow at the Black Dog Institute He helped establish the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance. We have Rachel Clements, please come on out. Rachel is working with workplaces all the time. She’s an organisational psychologist. She’s Director of Psychological Services at the Centre for Corporate Health and also Resilia. And she specialises in helping individuals and organisations really increase their emotional resilience and manage mental health issues in the workplace. We also have John Canning. John is a partner in a major law firm in Sydney. He’s become a very effective, strong spokesperson based on his own experience of mental illness in his case, bipolar disorder. And he’s a community presenter with the Black Dog Institute. So he’s decided to really take it public, his own experiences, and it’s been a fantastic thing. We also have Megan Kingham. Welcome. Manager of health and wellbeing at Optus. So a big corporation navigating mental health issues. Hey welcome. It’s great to have you here. John, let me start with you. A partner in a law firm. I mean… for a start, law. High pressure. A lot of bravado in that profession. A lot of macho, yeah. A lot of macho. How often do mental health conversations get had in the legal setting, traditionally? They’re starting to be had more often. The conversations now are sort of wrapped up in part of our caring for people, and treating people well. And it’s just for my sort of experience, what I found was that, if people – if you speak to people, people actually do care. That’s the sort of bottom line for me. And also the younger generation are a lot more adept at having these conversations. I think they’re better educated. For us old fogies, over 50s, it is a bit difficult. You know, I come from country Queensland. I grew up in the eighties in Queensland. That was not a place where you spoke about a lot of things including mental health. Take us back to when you really started having a problem. When you realised in yourself that things were going astray. At the end of 2007, I worked long hours and did something for clients, a matter for clients. And that worked out really well. Everyone was happy. But then I went home for Christmas and I wasn’t feeling great. I lived a sort of split life. My wife and children lived in the Blue Mountains we thought that would be a good thing to do. I had a flat in the city and I remember staying in there for two weeks just staying in bed, crying, not eating I’d go out, down to the local IGA, get a few bits now and again but at night, and I didn’t want to see anyone. And um, I slept a lot, I cried a lot. And then… that went on for a few months and then my wife went on the Black Dog Institute website and scored me, I think it was 32 out of 33 on the test for bipolar and said ‘you ought to do this’ and I scored 33 out of 33. I thought ‘hello, something’s up!’ So it was a combination of my wife and I working out what went on. Let me come to Mark Jacobson in the audience. With you is your partner Alex. Thanks so much for being here. – So Mark, you work with Sydney Water.
– Yes. – And I bet you can relate somewhat to what
– 100 per cent. Everything. So take us back to why you’re here today and why you’ve decided to speak about your experiences publicly. Um, roughly probably 2012, I went to work one morning and as the morning went on, what I know it as now as anxiety and panic had set in that morning. And I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t know if I was dying or what was going on. It was actually a manager of mine that approached me and asked if I was ok. His wife is actually a psychologist and he was quite understanding. He sort of calmed me down and suggested that I seek help about it. And we’ve landed you thick right in the middle of the most traumatic experience. And we should just establish what is the work that you do. You’re a hydrologist – – Yeah, for Sydney Water I’m a hydrologist and I’ve been working as a hydrologist with Sydney Water for six years, a little bit – six and a half years now. So did the anxiety feel like, that day, that it came out of nowhere? Yeah it did. And I’m a big coffee drinker and it was that morning that it was coffee after coffee and I later found out that that helped bring it on because it hypes you up a bit. But I wasn’t sure what was going on, you know, I couldn’t stop pacing, I couldn’t sit still. I just… had no way out of it. It was…. now I look back on it that my manager sort of stopped me and calmed me down and suggested I see a doctor. Yeah, so that’s an interesting conversation that they initiated with you. Yep. Because I didn’t know how to present to him. I didn’t want to be at work that morning, I didn’t want to be around anyone. All I wanted to do was just sit in bed and not see anyone, lock myself away. And try and figure out what was going on. So I had no idea how so how I was sort of going to suggest that to him so it was fantastic that he sort of spotted the signs and suggested that I seek help and take the time that I needed to sort myself out with that. Cause it’s just not the sort of conversation we’re used to having with our supervisors or managers is it.
– Not at all. And Alex has been phenomenal, hasn’t she? Yeah, absolutely. She’s my rock. I often said to her that, in the beginning, if I didn’t have her there to sort of guide me through, I didn’t know where I would be, and that was completely honest. She was pivotal in helping me get back on my feet and that was where I came across Mates in Construction. And just wanted to get involved. – And talk about it publicly.
– Yeah. Which is a whole other step to take isn’t it. Of course. So beyond that moment of anxiety did you manage to work out the dimensions of what you were feeling? Of what was going on for you? Not at all. It was just sort of little darting thoughts that just snowball and roll and roll and roll into something so big that you just can’t control it. And that was where I thought I just wanted to shelter away from everyone. And that leads to other things. I was embarrassed about going back to work because I wondered what people would think of me and what was going on and what not. So taking the first step in getting help was lifesaving. And we’ll talk a bit later about what your supervisor and your colleagues put in place. If there are any experiences you’d like to share as we go pop your hand up. Yes please. Hi. My name is Lyndsay. I work for Corrective Services NSW. I used to be a prison officer. Tough work environment, tough work environment. I’ve had depression and anxiety for a long time and I’ve had a suicide attempt. I had a… in the last 12 months it’s escalated and I’ve had two significant breakdowns at work. And I’ve been on stress leave twice. I went on a holiday to try and get away from it all to Thailand, and when I come back I had a discussion with my senior director about it saying, you know, ‘I’m pretty well stuffed, I’m pretty well going to jump off the cliff.’ It’s interesting you took these feelings of what was going on for you to your manager. How did that conversation go? Initially I thought it was going quite good. Unbeknownst to me, he was getting quite upset about it. So what happened was… and I’m talking about senior staff here. I raised this issue that I had major concerns about the way I was being managed, and I wasn’t coping, in September and I took that all the way to Assistant Commissioner level and I have yet to get a response. – Yeah.
– And that was in September. So by December I erupted. My immediate manager was pushing buttons like you wouldn’t believe So didn’t take your experience and think, well what role can I play to help you, necessarily. He had a major – I see him as being a major catalyst. By this stage I’d upped my Zoloft to about 800mg – So what could – just to keep the conversation going, and I really appreciate you sharing that experience and it sounds like you’re kind of in the thick of it – but what would have made a difference in that conversation that you had with your manager? – Support.
– So support, thank you. I think that’s a really good anchor. Support. Let me come to our panel. Rachel and Sam, there’s so many variables to this, aren’t there? Sam why do we find it such difficult terrain in the workplace, mental health? What are the things that we can get confused about in terms of our dynamics, our self, at work? I think it is, look – I think we increasingly understand that it’s more confusing than we at first realised. And I think part of that is because where we began the conversation around work and health was when they were simple problems like dust in the mine, or things like that. And it was a nice simple thing. You measure how much dust there is, you get rid of the dust, people don’t get sick. And I think we tried to take that paradigm into mental health in the workplace and I think that’s got us into a muddle which I think we’re now getting out of. Because it is complicated For most people, being at work is a really good thing for their mental health. And we know if we look at what happens to people’s mental health when they lose their job, that shows just how important it is. But I think because it has such a key role in ourselves and our self identity and what we do with our waking hours, if things aren’t right there, then that can have a real impact on us in a negative way. And I think increasingly we also realise that if we want to pick up when people are becoming unwell, the workplace is an ideal place to do that. And I think we heard that from Mark’s story. You know what struck me is even though those stories are sort of similar to a lot of other stories I hear from workers who’ve become unwell, what I think is surprising – particularly about the first two – is how quickly people were able to get diagnoses and help. And I appreciate at the time that wouldn’t have felt fast, that period of a few months, but actually, we regularly in a clinical setting will see people that have been unwell for much longer periods of time. and haven’t been able to link into help. And I think you guys explained very well why that is. Because the very symptoms you’re having make it hard to ask for help. – So that’s when it takes other people.
– Yeah. – And a workplace is a community of people, at it’s best. And we do a lot of work around mental health in the community but I think actually the workplace is a really untapped resource that we haven’t utilised as a place to try and reach out to people and to try and help people recover. But I think we are beginning to do that much better now. Isn’t that a great way of thinking about the workplace? As a resource for improving mental health. Hurrah! Can we get there? Rachel, as you were listening to the stories so far, – you’re working with employers, with managers
– yep – with corporations, all sorts of workplaces in all sorts of professions. I mean are there particular dynamics in a workplace that you see over and over again – that if only they were tweaked, if only they were changed,
– Yeah The outcomes could have been so different. Yeah, and I think that points to that very critical role of supportive leadership. And we know that a big aspect of our positive wellbeing when we’re at work and things are going well, is very much contributed by our immediate leader or line manager’s management style. And they’ve gone away and done a lot of research and worked out what is the biggest predictive factor of positive wellbeing in the workplace? And the number one is supportive leadership. And that goes to show in terms of that, if there was just that support shown at that time, not only can supportive leadership prevent people from becoming unwell, it can actually also really assist people in the recovery process. And people will recover a lot faster if they know they’ve got a supportive leader, and a supportive team around them as well. – Sam.
– I was just going to add to that. I think one of the things, there are some managers that are just, that are naturally good at this type of thing. And I think we heard an example of that in that story. But not everyone is. And I think what we are beginning to learn is that we can teach people a certain amount of skills that gets them up to the required standard where they’re being a help not a hindrance. I think most managers know what they would like to do. I think it’s more a question of confidence of having those really difficult conversations. I think we’ve got evidence now that we can show that we can change that. But also I wonder whether as employers, there’s a fine line where you go, well, I don’t want to intrude in someone’s private matters. Their mental health is surely their private affair. What you don’t want is your manager at work being some lay therapist, who suddenly is asking you about other things. I think the point is, there’s a role that managers have in being supportive, and that’s a key part of a manager’s role, and I think part of what we need to teach managers how to be a good manager, is how to know what their role is. Yes because just to be devil’s advocate, Rachel, we come to our workplaces with a history.
– Of course. Family trauma, maybe a history of anxiety, our individual coping styles, our individual resilience or not as the case may be. – Is it the responsibility of a workplace to engage with any of that? Given that it’s of you? Well I think historically it was very much, 10 or 15 years ago, it was very separate. Work and personal life were completely separate. Whereas now it’s not so. And we know now the work health and safety legislation that came into effect particularly around 2012 and that goes to show, if you are observing that someone is not travelling so well, regardless of causation, doesn’t matter. If someone’s not travelling so well because of a work related issue, or if they’re not travelling so well at work because of a personal issue, or if they’re not traveling so well at work because of a pre-existing mental health condition, the legislation now is in place to say if you are observing someone’s not traveling so well, you are under a legal obligation to ‘asses the risk’, which means go and initiate a conversation with someone about the cause, what’s going on, how can we help, and how can we assist and support. And then be able to put in a management plan for them. So I think we’ve seen a shift in that space, particularly since that legislation came about, in employers being a lot more proactive because now there’s legislation to support that. But I still do see a lot of anxiety in workplaces around having the conversation, and I do think it’s often because, in a lot of jobs, managers are in that role of trouble-shooting problem solving, dealing with something, putting a plan in place and making it all ok again. And I think it managers go into conversations around wellbeing and mental health with that same perspective and mentality, of course they’re going to be anxious. Because they don’t have the answers, it’s not their role to fix it. It’s not their role to be able to be that person’s main source of support. – Megan from Optus, you’re nodding your head at intervals here.
– I am. What would you like to pipe in about? Cause you’re an organisation…. you run a healthy minds initiative inside Optus to really try and engage your workforce with a whole range of different questions about mental health at work. And when we started looking at this a couple of years ago we, like a lot of organisations, we realised we had to do something. But we didn’t quite know what. Um, and so we started. And one of the things that very much came out early in our research was – Just, I’ll pause on that. Why did you realise you had to do something? – What was happening in your workplace?
– The community expects it. I mean there’s a change in legislation, certainly, but community expectations. So when… And I mean our employees come from the community. And so there’s a lot of talk in the community about mental health. I mean obviously in a big corporation you know the tradition might be – they give you a gym membership discount
– and a flu shot. – A flu shot. That’s called health and wellbeing in the workplace.
– Yes, it was. Why did you want to dig deeper? Well because there’s more to life than that. And as those barriers between work and life break down with flexible work, technology etcetera, of course you know work is impacting on people’s personal life. So we shouldn’t be surprised when the reverse happens. And this is what we need to deal with as an employer. We want to keep people, we want to keep good people, and mental health issues were getting in the way of that because nobody quite knew what to do about it. And the leadership conversations were the things that came up as most important. And as Sam said, leaders, managers, they want to do the right thing. They want to be supportive, but often are terrified. Don’t want to make the situation worse. – Sam.
– Can I add one other dimension to it? And this might be a slightly unfair question Megan. But there’s the legal responsibility, and there’s the ethical wanting to do the right thing. I assume within an organisation increasingly there’s also a financial imperative to do this because it just makes good economic sense to stop people getting unwell. And to minimise the harm when they get unwell. Absolutely. And so early intervention and recognising those signs Because in the past people have just gone off on sick leave for months and months. And then somebody says, ‘Oh, I wonder what’s going on there?’ And it’s too late often then. And then… or it comes up in a performance management discussion. And sometimes that can be too late too. So what we want to do is to get discussions going around mental health as part of everyday work. Whether you’re talking to a colleague or whether you’re talking to someone who works in your team. So it comes up in a performance management discussion. I’ll be really interested to hear if that’s been your experience in a workplace. That somehow, you’re experience of mental health or illness or ill health, has somehow got mixed up with the complications of performance management. Very delicate. I’ll come to you in a tick. We’ve got Pam Rutledge who’s actually from Richmond PRA. And they… you work with people who are having an enduring, chronic experience of mental illness, don’t you? This is a kind of wrap-around service that supports them in all aspects of their life. Yes, thanks Natasha. The point I’d really like to pick up on however is as an employer, and we employ about 600 people, we are a mental health service organisation but we decided that, um, in that context with our focus on the value of lived experience, to inform and drive the work that we do, we needed to be an employer that walked the talk. And so we committed in 2012 to achieve a target of at least half of our workforce, our total workforce, being people who identify with a lived experience of mental health issue by 2017. And at the latest count we’re at 49.2 [per cent]. Can we just give them a round of applause please? How fantastic is that! – It becomes part of the selection criteria.
– Yes it is. And we have an affirmative action approach so that we actually, where we have two people applying for any job in the organisation, and one of them is a person who identifies as having a lived experience, they get a preference under affirmative action policy. And so a lot of the conversation is about how to have that…. how to be open about the conversation, about the fact that mental health issues do impact on the way we do our work, just as a family issue does, just as managing or working, having a sick child, or an ageing parent that we should be able to embrace in the workplace how we can have these open honest conversations. So our approach is to make it something that is talked about very early on, and so we encourage any of our employees to do with their manager a personal situation plan that identifies what might happen for them in the workplace, what their triggers might be, what things could occur – that might make it difficult
– ok and so that means if something does happen, um the manager can have a conversation ‘Hey I’ve noticed that…’ or ‘I’m observing that…’ and, you know, we’ve got our plan, you know is it time to talk about how we can help you? And so we’re trying to get the conversation happening in a really open way. And it’s not perfect of course, we’re not 100% there. But trying to turn it around so that it is – part of normalised work experience.
– Great, thanks Pam. I’ll just come to…. we had another question here. Hello there, oh yes I know your face, hi. – You do. This isn’t a question. My name is Judy, and I’ve had a lived experience of mental disorder for 50 years. I’m also a carer of two daughters who have mental disorder. We belong to Schizophrenia Fellowship and we’ve been trained by Schizophrenia Fellowship in a program called re.mind. And I’ve been doing it now for about 15 to 16 years, where we go out into the workplace and share our experiences. So do you have a sense when you’re in a workplace sharing your own story – Do you have a sense of the impact of that?
– Oh I know very well. – Tell us about the impact.
– Well, ah, we were told at a conference last year by a psychiatrist from America who said, if you want to do anything to help mental health and mental awareness and reduce stigma, you just have to come out. And be prepared to share it and talk about it. And that way you get empathy and understanding from people. – So…
– Can I say..
– Yes, Sam. And what you described fits with everything we’re learning about how you reduce stigma. That you show people, you know you can show people as many powerpoint slides as you want explaining what depression is but it’s only by getting people with that lived experience in the room, speaking with them, that that’s what makes the difference. In the workplace, we did a thing with firefighters. These were big tough burly guys. And we said we were going to talk about how you have these difficult conversations. And one of the firefighters said to me, he said, ‘Mate, you give me a burning building, I’d prefer to run into that than to have a conversation about mental health with one of my guys.’ But um, you know we spent four hours with them, and it made a big difference. Six months later, still increased confidence having conversations, reduction in sickness absence in the organisation. So it doesn’t take much to change the dialogue. Yes so John, when you started to articulate what was going on for you, once you’d understood yourself what was going on, to your colleagues, to your partners in the law firm, to other colleagues, how did those conversations initially go? Law’s a very conservative profession. They range from, someone getting in the lift going, ‘Hi are you ok?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Are you really ok? Are you really ok? Yeah I’m bipolar but don’t worry about it. Or people, um, when you’re a bit down and out coming up and saying ‘can I help you?’ And I agree with you, when you share stories people do show empathy and want to understand. So if you share those stories it starts to break down the barriers and reduce stigma. And that is principally why I do what I do. This is very much the work of, ah, Mates in Construction. And Mark, you’re involved in Mates in Construction. We’ve got Carolyn Kelso it just so happens who’s also involved in Mates in Construction, one of the very small staff of the NSW branch of Mates in Construction. Let’s get the mike to you. And Mates in Construction came out of Queensland. Carolyn, thanks so much for being here tonight. We’re in WA and South Australia as well. – You’re in WA and South Australia.
– Yeah. So actually it’s about conversations isn’t it? Peer to peer conversations, in the construction industry initially, on building sites but beyond now. We actually go on sites by invitation and we actually um, have a… we develop communities basically. So we actually train big burly construction workers on how to identify when someone’s doing it tough. And know how to connect them to the appropriate help. And even intervene on suicide. So we have three levels of training, where general awareness training for everybody, where we um, we give clear – it’s from major research – um how to identify when someone is doing it tough, and why the construction industry is higher in suicides than other forms of death. The construction industry is 97, 98% male dominated and there’s a culture there, you know ‘suck it up princess, have a teaspoon of cement’, and don’t talk about your stuff. We’re trying to actually change that culture, that it’s ok to ask for help It’s about mates helping mates. So we’re actually sharpening the tools of the managers and employees, from apprentices to everybody, on how to actually help a mate. And we see it working day in day out. Let’s give them a round of applause, thank you Carolyn. It’s great. And theirs is a model that can be applied to other industries. Rachel. Yes I was just going to say that methodology that Mates in Construction are using is, this is the John’s firm that he works for has used a very similar methodology and that we partnered with John’s firm to really do the mental health awareness for most of the partners and directors and managers. And then we really looked at, well, would someone go to disclose a mental health issue to a partner or a director or a manager? Maybe, but maybe not. And that’s when they really went that next level down and initiated a similar program with wellbeing officers. And I think we trained over 140 wellbeing officers nationally – in all of your offices
– What does a wellbeing officer do? Well a wellbeing officer is a contact. It’s a person who has undergone, we did three hours of training, with them around, how do I recognise a mental health issue? How do I realise when someone’s not travelling so well? How do I respond? How do I have a conversation with someone I might be concerned about? How do I refer? What are my referral options? And we designed a nice mental health intervention framework for them to use. What internal resources do I have, what external resources do I have, and how do I just keep someone on my radar? And reconnect with them every now and again. To make sure that we’ve followed up with them. So it’s really using that peer to peer support model and if someone’s not travelling so well they can be identified. Your wellbeing officers, they’re names were published, and promoted, so everybody knew who the wellbeing officer was. And so if I’m not so comfortable disclosing a mental health issue to my partner or my manager, I might have my buddy in the next group, or someone who’s around my level, who I might chose to disclose that to. And we trained everyone from secretaries to paralegals, to accounts people to managers to someone in marketing. So it’s just across the board now. If only all workplaces were as enlightened. – Megan you want to weigh in and then I want to come up to you sorry.
– It’s important to have people on the ground… as well, because sometimes people’s, your manager might be in another state. Or another country. And you don’t have the day to day interaction where they could pick up those sorts of things. So the peer to peer stuff’s really important. But even, um, even the word ‘disclose’ – we were talking about this earlier, weren’t we. I mean I reckon we need to even shift even that concept that somehow we’ve got this secret, and we’re going to reveal our vulnerability. I’m going to take that little gem of a personal experience and expose it in the workplace. And the consequences can be very tough. I mean workplaces are punitive, competitive environments at times. They are. And I noticed that somebody, it was up there, used the word ‘identify’. Identify as having lived experience. I think that’s much better, much nicer, than I’m telling you my dirty little secret. My dirty little secret…. Can we come up to you, thank you, thanks for waiting. That’s ok. Hi I’m Paula and I’m a person with lived experience. And I just wanted to share about my workplace wellness plan that I have with my manager. I work in the public sector mental health service, and it’s the first time I’ve actually got a job because of my mental illness because I’ve had a history of being sacked because of it. So it’s nice to actually… It’s actually a prerequisite for the job. So I feel very blessed with that. And I work within a very supportive environment within a mental health service, and it was really important for me to be proactive with my plan. So I put the plan together and then I took it to my line manager and we now review that every year, and when I do my annual assessments. What’s your work plan contain that’s vital? The things that I want to see happen if I start to become unwell. I was owned by a cat until six months ago when she passed away, and it was really important for me to know that if I was going to hospital, that somebody was, my friend Michael would be called to look after her. Otherwise my anxiety levels would be horrific. And I just wouldn’t go to hospital if I knew she wasn’t being looked after. They know what I need to do. – So this plan was something that was at work, as well?
– Yes. I have it at work. – So it’s both in your life, at work, at home, amongst your friends…
– Yes, yes. Everybody in my support team has a copy of it. Fantastic. Great to hear. If anyone else has a support plan that they’ve negotiated in some way no matter how big, comprehensive, little, I’d love to hear about it. And there’s that word ‘support’ again, and having a support network, which is really hard to find when you’re doing it tough. I just want to book end this thing about conversations, because it’s come up quite a bit. And so we’ll bookend that part of the conversation. But Rachel, you have some great tools that you offer. In fact all of you have got comments on this. Tools for how to initiate the conversation. What do some of those tools look like? – So this is if you’re initiating a conversation with your…
– About a mental health issue or challenge …with your manager or someone. I think key is doing some preparation for it. And really thinking firstly about who. Who do I want to share this information with? Who do I want to talk to about this? It may be my manager but it may not. Maybe I don’t feel comfortable for some reason. So it might be a peer, it might be a colleague. So the who. I think how much information do you want to disclose There is no legal obligation to let an employer know So how much information is certainly worth considering. I think also choosing to go through a bit of a ‘advantages and disadvantages’, pros and cons analysis, in terms of is it going to be, in some work environments, maybe it is a very safe place to be able to talk openly about a mental health issue, whereas in other workplaces, maybe I don’t quite trust that it will be kept confidential, whether I might, this might have implications for my career whether I might be discriminated against, whether I might be just treated differently. – So I think undertaking…
– If you’re in a workplace like that, what are the other things that you can do to get the support you need to cope at work? Well you can use your other support networks through colleagues or peers maybe, using that support network, but also support networks outside of work in terms of a lot of people have spoken about friends and family and drawing on support outside of work can also give a lot of strength. And I know a lot of people who may be experiencing a mental health issue who don’t necessarily talk about it at work because they’ve got very strong support outside of work whether it’s friends or family, it might be treating practitioners and professionals that they’re engaged in with counselling. So there’s other avenues to also get that support too. – Sam.
– I think that’s a good point. That we shouldn’t assume for everyone that disclosing, or whatever term we’re going to think up for it, is the right thing. And it is a difficult thing. I think we are lucky in the time in which we live in which there is a lot of information available. There’s the Heads Up website that beyondblue launched a couple of years ago, it has a lot of information about mental health in the workplace. There’s a thing on there called a decision aid tool. So essentially that allows an individual who’s trying to decide if they want to tell people at work or not, to kind of go through each of those steps and it sort of guides you through and gives you a bit of legal advice, a bit of general advice and things like that. So I think, I mean we heard earlier with John’s story, that the internet can help. It can be a problem as well, but the good sites – Heads Up, the Black Dog Institute – there’s good tools there. – And you’ve used… Oh John.
– But I will point out that the people two hours out of Dubbo don’t have a computer sometimes. – True.
– That’s where for me doing what Mates in Construction do that face to face is actually really important. And Meghan, you’ve used some of these tools in your workplace as part of the Healthy Minds project. Yeah we do. Because we realise that once you do the awareness, the training, whatever, that’s fine but somebody might be broaching one of these conversations six months down the track. And they think, ‘what was that they said in that course?’ We have a lot of the materials there from SANE Australia and from everywhere, that can help people have those conversations. And we’re always talking about where these things live on our intranet and also in hard copy, and everywhere else we can put it, I’ll slap it up everywhere. Just so that people know that that’s there when they need it because, thankfully it’s not something they need everyday. Lots of questions so let’s come to you, thank you, hi. Hi, Jack Heath from SANE Australia. There’s also some important cultural issues here in Australia about disclosing about mental illness in the workplace. And that is in Australia we’re very much such a team based culture, and I wonder whether or not it’s the extent to which we say, you know what, I don’t want to let the team down, and I’m going to keep the problem to myself. Because what we also found is that when people do go out and disclose, the support that’s here in Australia is quite extraordinary, but we seem to have what John was talking about a little bit earlier, a little bit of self stigma which sort of says ‘I don’t want to say that I’m vulnerable, I don’t want to put my hand up’, even though the support that we get when we do that is quite extraordinary. Interesting, yes, that’s an interesting observation. Time is marching on and I really want to come back to Mark Jacobson. Mark, tell us what your supervisor did with you? What you together, collaboratively, developed to enable you to move on? Yep. So um, my supervisor explained you know my doctor had explained to me about the anxiety which then developed into chronic depression and what not, and my supervisor put it very simply for me, and it was better than it’s been put with any doctor, and it was basically that anyone with a broken leg is injured, and it takes time for that injury to heal, you’re off work for that amount of time and you do what’s necessary to heal yourself with that. And it’s the exact same with a mental illness, only that no one can see it. My supervisor had organised not for me to go into work but had organised a Sydney Water appointed psychiatrist, who had more letters in front of his name that I’d ever seen in my life. So through this psychiatrist they were informing my supervisor where I was at in life, which enabled them to help me get back on my feet. And which they did, you know had me back in working on lesser hours, or shorter working week, and basically whatever I needed it was catered for. What difference did getting treatment or support, or therapy, or whatever range of things that you were accessing, at the same time as continuing on in the workforce, what was powerful about that combination, do you think? In terms of your own healing. Being at work is part of the healing process as well. I found being at home, I felt useless. Being involved at work, being helped through work, and having the support that I had day to day, was exactly what I needed to get back on my feet. You know, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the way that it was approached and the way that it ended up. It happened on a number of fronts, so you also, you know, if anxiety was an issue – perhaps to do less site visits for a while.
– Yeah, of course. I was a bit worried at first going back to work, after having so much time off, as I said earlier I was a bit worried about how I was going to be viewed in the workplace. I felt that I had let – someone mentioned before – the team, letting the team down at work, I’m not there to help, and when I am there, you know, I’m not myself, and what not. So I found getting up, going to work everyday, with the support that I have had, and still have, it gave me meaning everyday to do something. I felt like I was pulling my weight that way. – Mark… Oh, Sam.
– Can I add something to that. Cause so far, we’ve kind of let mental health professionals off rather easy so far in this conversation. There is still an idea that as a clinician, your role is to protect people from work until their 100% well. And you’re exactly right, that increasingly we know that we have to be getting clinicians more to be thinking about work as part of people’s recovery when it’s appropriate, but I think that requires joint working between the clinician and workplaces and the patient. And that’s a new skill for us as clinicians and something we’re learning as we go. – So John, you very much believe that work was crucial.
-Oh yeah. But there’s an interesting…. you work in a few different fronts. Yes, work was vital in your recovery, but also you talk about these eight pillars of resilience – I think that is what you call them,
– Yeah that you have instigated in your own life to enable you to function well. Yeah. Work is a part of your life, and it’s a big part of your life. You don’t want to be… if you’re miserable at work, you’re pretty bloody miserable because you spend a lot of time there. Um, in my recovery going to work, like for Mark, it gave me self worth, and it helps you overcome self stigma. You’re confident again, that’s just a given. In terms of what I had to do and learn, it was, you know, take my meds. A lot of people… the stats are, as I understand it, that a lot of men in particular self medicate. You don’t self medicate. If you’re on a drug that’s going to help you with a mental illness, you take it. Well certainly that’s um… if you know Gordon Parker, he will tell you pretty straight. And he knows – you can walk in there and he knows if you’re not on your drugs. – Gordon Parker, founder of the Black Dog Institute,
– Correct. – leading psychiatrist.
– I’m very lucky to have resources like that. Next is exercise. Diet. Sleep. And what I call rest. What I… If I’m unwell, and my wife can pick it up, she says ‘you’re unwell’, we know what unwell means – mentally unwell, I have rest. Whether that’s one, two hours, I go home rest of the afternoon, or you know take time out I take time out. The most I’ve ever taken out is three weeks. But you know, can do that. My family. And – all credit to you Alex – carers. Having a good carer, and having a carer for a start, but having a carer that understands, and my family, and helping them understand my illness through education, has been the biggest thing in my life. And it’s because… .that was not easy, in that, not that they didn’t want to do it, and there’s been some pretty rough patches in my life and certainly with my mental illness, not that people didn’t want to do that, it’s just a question of understanding and education. That to me is the real part. Having people close to you, and those closest to you, I can’t underscore that more. If you have that around you, everything else just falls into place. Any other experiences in the audience to that… around that kind of process of returning to work? Yes hi, thanks. Hi, my name’s Sue Gorton. I’m an occupational health nurse from 25 years in the UK, so I’ve lived under the umbrella of Dame Carol Black and all the work done about good work is good for you. And my job for the past 25 years has been designing return to work plans and job modification plans for people with both physical and mental health issues. Because if you want someone to stay at work, all the research has shown you don’t change the job… you don’t create a job for someone with a mental health issue, – you change the job.
– You modify the job. And there’s lots of avenues for simple things. You might not even need to disclose a mental health issue to a manager, but you have to give the manager confidence that the person returning to work will ultimately be able to do the job for which they were employed. That they can still do the integral parts of that role, even if you have to modify some of them. And most of my job, in the past 25 years, was actually instilling confidence in both the employee, that we could create the first step of a return to work that they could see themselves doing, because if you’re off, 100% sick, you see going back to work at 100% as an insurmountable project. So if you can say, well actually, we’re not looking at 100% of your job, we just want you to see the first 25% of it, and if you give them that support and confidence to do that, and the manager, then you get them back to work within a set period of time. Because they both have the confidence for that same journey. And the manager’s just as frightened as the employee. So you have to have some mechanism in place for both of them. If you don’t, I don’t think you can succeed. And just for anyone here, if you were looking for some advice on job modifications, there’s some great work done on the job accommodation network, that was done in America, after they had the Americans with Disabilities Act. – The job?
– The Job Accommodation Network – OK
– Has got a whole raft of information on how to modify roles for people with mental health issues. – Even something simple like, can I wear a pair of headphones
– Fantastic. OK. when I’m at work because the noise around me is distracting. Sometimes it can be as simple as giving someone the permission to wear headphones. And we’ll round of the conversation today with resources. I want to pass the mic to Jenny Baines who’s right next to you because we’ve been talking about well the fact, the very act of normalising these conversations about our mental wellbeing is destigmatising. And hopefully will create future generations of workforces for whom this is just a normal part of existing in a workplace. And Jenny, you are involved in an institution Western Sydney University, who are training you are training the next workforce. And you are very actively also engaging in a mental health strategy with both staff and students on campus, aren’t you? – With this in mind.
– That’s right, yes. So I had the pleasure of working as a counsellor for many years with students, um, wonderful to work with. Who are mostly under 25, who are in that kind of age bracket of developing mental illness, and also we see a lot of depression and anxiety walking through our doors. So we have support services available for staff and for students But many years ago we thought, well, we have this wonderful opportunity in our community to actually broaden that out and have many more broader conversations rather than the one to one. So we developed a mental health and wellbeing strategy for the university. And, last year, finalised our mental health and wellbeing policy for the university. And under that sits a number of initiatives. I think one of the gems is… under that we do a lot of training with staff, mental health first aid training – suicide awareness training with our staff
– mental health first aid. – Yes.
– How does that work in the context of a university workforce? OK so it allows… it’s a two day program so it’s quite a commitment, and over the years – we’ve been running it since 2008 – so over the years we have quite good commitment to that program now from staff. The beauty of that is it starts the conversations, It does address stigma and it talks about some of the myths around mental illness. And it’s had quite an impact on our staff. We’re actually evaluating the impact that this has had on staff – and students because….
– What’s your sense of the impact? Maybe some examples? Well an example might be, we started running the training particularly for our frontline staff, our student central staff, And we had a student who was in line and she noticed that that particular student was starting to… you know, was a bit agitated a bit concerned. And she said afterwards her approach was quite different after having done that particular program. And she kind of walked the person up to see one of the counsellors, and that person was actually quite suicidal at the time. So it was quite…. quite an impact. And we’ve had a number of testimonials and statements about that that it’s been quite powerful. And one of the things that we are doing is working with nursing students and secondary education students and running the program with them in order to equip them to manage these issues much better when they go into the workplace. And also, um, we know that sure we’ve got professionals on campus and students and staff will come in and see us, but they’ll talk to their friends more often. So we’re working on students supporting students now. – OK
– and a mental health and wellbeing ambassador program. Thanks Jenny Baines for being here. Hi, you had a question. My name’s Marina. I’ve been a registered nurse for about 40 years and I’m just listening to all this conversation and it’s extremely interesting, but also the fact that working in the Department of Health… in health, for all these years I’ve never… I’ve had my own issues with depression, but I’ve never ever heard of a management plan If I have a bad day at work I speak to my boss and it’s like, ‘ok that’s great, this is how much leave you’ve got up your sleeve at the moment.’ And they’ll listen to you and they’ll talk to you, but they don’t own your problem or they won’t participate with you in your problem. – And there’s no framework?
– And there’s no framework. And they’re all lovely people but it’s the fact that we’re time poor, we’re money poor, we’re resource poor, we’re Department of Health, we push… Nurses are also seen, I think, and a lot of people in caring professions as being able to help yourself a little bit more. Or at least being a little bit more aware. And you’ve got more resources than somebody in another capacity in another job that hasn’t. And I think that’s a big thing. I said not all people are getting looked after by a Water Board or Optus. And you know we’re one of the biggest employers, and I’m yet to hear all those good things happening there. Yeah there’s always a sweet irony, isn’t there, that some of those professions, or departments or organisations that are actually focused on health outcomes are very poor at navigating their own challenges in the workforce. Let’s come to the panel. And to Mark. Any final comments from you on what one key shift would undermine this stigma that we experience? If you’re an employer, or you’re a manager in an organisation, you’re not alone in trying to work out what you need to do. At a national level there’s beyondblue Heads Up website and the Mentally Health Workplace Alliance that’s got lots of resources written for employers. Within NSW we’ve got WayAhead and the Mental Health Promotion Network which has local meetings that will guide people who are new to this area to do stuff. If you’re someone who’s already suffering from a mental illness, and you’re not doing… you’re not getting the type of work you want at the moment, then tell your health professional that that needs to be part of your treatment plan. That that’s part of your recovery. And if you’re someone who has symptoms and is not getting help at the moment then ask for help, or use one of the online resources now if you’re not ready to ask someone face to face. OK. Sharon Leadbeater from Wayahead, hello there. Let’s just come briefly to you. What is Wayahead? What can you offer people in this audience? I work for Wayahead Mental Health Association which is a mental health promoting charity here in Sydney. I coordinate the workplace health program. And that is for any organisation that is interested in supporting the health and wellbeing of their employees. We provide network meetings for people, where we bring in expert guest speakers to present the latest best practice information, whether it’s case studies or examples of research in the area, the latest findings. We also have a newsletter that goes out. We negotiate conference discounts for our members to try and help with their professional development. And we also have an extensive resources section because as the panel have pointed out tonight there’s a lot more resources out there than they’re ever used to be. And a lot aren’t involving cost either. So we’re trying to be a bit of a go-to hub. Any final comments, on stigma or otherwise. Rachel. I think it’s around education, you know, it’s around educating people and helping people feel a lot more confident and a lot more competent around having conversations with people about their wellbeing. – Mark.
– One of the biggest discoveries I’ve made since coming through it was, a little while back, I did a story with the Sydney Morning Herald involving Mates in Construction. One of the biggest discoveries I found after that story was just how many people are suffering as well. Who – you know, you’d never have any idea. And I think once people start to become more aware that anyone can be affected by it, I think it will be much more easier to talk about as well. Thank you Mark. John. Education at a national level. If we go back and have a look at some things that we’ve done very well, how did we get fit?We told Norm to ‘Life. Be in it.’ How did we sort of draw attention to people with AIDS? Grim reaper and the bowling ball. How did we stop sun cancer? Slip slop slap. How did we stop smoking? Quit. The Victorian Road Association ads. We need something like that to go at the base level the community level. Corporates do have a responsibility, yes, but I think it’s just got to grow organically up. Megan. I think we’ve just got to keep talking about it. At every level that we can. Whether it’s business to business about the costs that it’ll save, or whether it’s as an employer that’s looking after your people. I think we just need to keep talking about it to whoever will listen. It’s not going away. Can I thank our wonderful panel. John Canning, Megan Kingham, Rachel Clements, Dr Sam Harvey. It’s been fantastic to have your expertise and stories in the audience Really appreciate you attending. And thank you to the wonderful NSW Mental Health Commission team for pulling this together so professionally and holding it at the Riverside Theatre. Thank you to our venue hosts as well. Thank you.

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