Did you do anything to mark the R U OK day held earlier this year on September 12? The R U OK day is organised by an Australian non-profit suicide prevention organisation, founded by advertiser Gavin Larkin in 2009. It revolves around the slogan ‘R U OK?’, and encourages people to have conversations with others about their mental health and any problems they may be experiencing.
Gary lost his father to suicide in 1996. When Garry suffered depression he did a personal development course in San Francisco and decided on a mental health project. He created the RU OK day to honour his father.
Some 65,000 Australians make a suicide attempt every year and around 2,320 people die. 45 per cent of people aged 16 to 85 will have a mental illness during their life time. Look at the state the world is in, global warming, wide-spread animal extinction, wars and poverty. Personally I think you’re crazy if you don’t suffer depression at least once in your life! So please, don’t ever feel ashamed or inadequate if you are struggling with your mental health.
We all need to care for our mental health, just as we need to care for our physical health. We need to think positive thoughts (not negative). We need to eat healthy foods. We need to tell ourselves that we are worthwhile. We need to exercise. All of this needs to be worked at! It doesn’t just happen by itself.
A new American study has now found that the majority of workers want their employers to support their mental health, and regularly ask if they are okay. To me this makes perfect sense – both ethically and economically.
In Australia, mental health and suicide cost some $180 billion annually, according to a new report from the national Productivity Commission. It has forensically examined the cost of mental health and suicide – that figure equates to $500 million losses a day, because people go untreated.
In the US, Mind Share Partners, SAP, and Qualtrics surveyed attitudes and support for mental health in the workplace. They asked 1,500 people in different industries a range of questions. Less than half of respondents felt that mental health was a priority at their work, and even fewer viewed their managers as mental health advocates.
A huge 86 percent of our respondents thought that a company’s culture should support mental health. This percentage was even higher for people under 35, who change jobs more than older workers. Half of Millennials and 75% of Generation Z (born mid-90s to early 2000s) had left jobs for mental health reasons, compared with just 20 per cent of workers overall.
Maybe this tells us that young people know how important good mental health is, whereas older people think they have to be stoic and suffer in silence.
The survey also found that many people don’t even know when they have a mental illness like depression. They just think they are having a tough time. This also means many people don’t get the help they need. Around one in five people are dealing with a mental health problem at any time, and 60 per cent of people never tell their work colleagues. Respondents were the least comfortable talking to their managers and Human Resources – the exact people they should be speaking to. The truth is that senior managers are just as susceptible to mental health problems as the rest of us.
How workplaces do better
Companies need to change their attitude. Mental health is a side issue or something for HR to sort out. Supporting mental health needs to be at the core of work culture. Also bosses need to remember that everyone is different.
Ideally companies should give employees access to counselling services and workers need to know where to go or who to ask for support.
Start at the top
Changing the culture is a top-down process that starts with the CEO. Encourage executive teams, managers, and senior employees to share their experiences (or those of close family members or friends) at team meetings.
Managers need to model disclosure and vulnerability as strengths, not weaknesses. It’s okay not to be okay! Bosses need to be normalizers-in-chief of mental health challenges, with support from other senior managers.
Invest in education
Training is essential for all employees, especially managers. They need to learn how to name, normalize, and navigate mental health at work. They need to be taught how to have difficult conversations and what actions they can take to reduce mental health stigma. They need to understand mental health conditions, their prevalence and impact at work, and ways to recognise and respond to employees who are struggling. Managers need to be taught how to respect and care for each individual.
Leaders who help people open up about whatever is holding them back at work are the most effective and admired.
Many employees are either unaware of the mental health support offered at their work places or they are afraid to use them. In the study, Millennials were 63 per cent more likely than Baby Boomers to know how to access the work counsellor.
One way to ensure everyone is aware of these supports is to talk about them, and have policies that support them. Counsellors could even visit workplaces once or twice a year. Anonymous surveys are another good way for workplaces to measure attitudes toward mental health, and see if workers have the support they need. Some workplaces also run self-help groups for workers with mental health challenges so they can support each other.
What do you think of these ideas? Should companies create work cultures where employees can speak about mental health challenges or is this something personal that we shouldn’t share at work? What is your view?
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ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.