10 Steps to Address Mental Health as Part Of Your Corporate Wellness Program October 11th, 2011, by Ken Buckley

Several million people in Australia experience depression, an anxiety disorder or other mental health illness each year. As a manager, HR or OHS representative, regardless of the industry you work in, at some point in your career you will be affected – directly or indirectly – by a mental health problem.

Mental illness is a term used for a range of conditions which affect a person’s mood, behaviour and thoughts in a way that is distressing and impacts on day-to-day functioning. It is a health problem that significantly affects how a person feels, things, behaves, and interacts with others, thus affecting their relationship, their work, and their enjoyment of life.

Here are some facts about mental health in Australia, just in time for Mental Health Week (9-15 October 2011):

• On average, every full-time employee with untreated depression costs an organisation $9,665 per year, as reported in a study conducted by the University of Queensland.

• 95 per cent of a population surveyed by SANE Australia think employers and managers need education on mental illness and how to manage its effects in the workplace.

• Almost 50 per cent of Australians will experience a mental health problem at some time in their lives.

• According to beyondblue, the national depression initiative, depression is currently the leading cause of non-fatal disability in Australia, but only three per cent of the population identifies it as a major health problem.

Despite one in five Australians experiencing mental health problems each year, the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research reported that nearly half of all senior managers believe none of their workers will experience a mental health problem at work.

However it does not have to be that way. By running corporate wellness initiatives targeting mental health as part of corporate health program, you can educate, raise awareness and improve your staff overall wellbeing.

Start by going through this mental health checklist with your managers and team leaders to assess the need for further mental health educational seminars:

1. Does your organisation have a mental health policy and are you aware of your duties under the Australian-wide Disability Discrimination Act?
2. Could you or your manager list the early signs of stress, depression, and anxiety related drug and alcohol problems?
3. Do you have regular meetings or appraisal sessions with your staff so that you can spot any mental health problems in the early stages?
4. Do you specifically check on the well-being of your staff in these appraisal sessions? eg. excessive travelling, long hours, pressures at home such as moving house, getting married, having children, bereavements etc?
5. Do your staff know they can talk to you or your company EAP confidentially if they have an issue?
6. If you suspect one of your staff suffers from mental health issues, would you suggest they go to see your company EAP, their GP or health professional?
7. Once you’ve suggested they see someone, do you follow them up and make sure they get professional help?
8. Do you allow your staff to have as much flexibility as possible regarding how work gets done, to help them balance their personal and work lives?
9. Are you aware of staff or colleagues who have had a mental health problem?
10. Where you have employees with an ongoing mental health problem, are you aware of their coping strategies and their wishes about how you can help in the event of a relapse?

To create a mentally healthy workforce, companies should also work on building a supportive environment where employees are able to express any difficulties they may be having balancing their workloads. Skills and resources to help them manage their time and address challenges positively should be made available through corporate health initiatives such as educational booklet about mental health, life coaching sessions, and organisational work-life balance policies such as flexible working hours and job sharing.

For more information on Corporate Health Program, contact Healthworks on 1300 90 10 90 (International: IDD 61-2-9954-1888 ) and be sure to quote: “post1079” for eligibility of Healthworks latest online offers and Corporate Health initiatives.

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