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  • Writer's pictureJason Downes

19/52: How to help?

Two months ago, just before our world was turned upside I met with my friend Helen, who is a Doctor, to discuss how worried I was by the increasing impact mental health was having in the workplace. In the 21 years I've been working professionally, I've been aware of mental health challenges. In 1999 I began my teaching career in London, covering for teachers who were off on 'stress leave'. When I returned to Australia in 2004 I entered the recruitment industry and I was exposed to a variety of businesses, often calling upon my temps to assist with employees who needed time off. As my career has progressed, I found my role as a Manager was just as much about supporting an individual's mental health, as it was developing their work performance and productivity.

I now spend a great deal of time supporting the construction industry to develop strategies to hire the best and brightest, and it's evident these workers are exposed to some of the greatest mental health challenges of any Australian sector. Construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than a workplace accident (read this report). This is likely to be an even bigger issue as a result of the Coronavirus and its effect on the economy and our way of life.

As a Manager, it's often difficult to know what to do. We're not health professionals, yet we are on the front line of managing and helping people who are struggling to cope with the pressures of life, work and their inner chemistry.

Are you okay?

We spend a lot of time with our colleagues and therefore we're in a good position to take note of changes to behaviours and performance. If you notice changes in a colleague, get on the front foot and ask if they are okay (R U OK guides you how to ask). Reassure them that you want to support and treat them fairly while respecting their privacy.

If you're working from home, keep regular communication with your team including phone calls, video calls, email and chat groups. Check out this Cornonavirus resource from Beyond Blue for some excellent advice.

Looking forward:

I'm certainly not an expert in this space, which is why I always link to the professionals, but I am certain of this: The challenge of dealing with mental health is not going to diminish. Thankfully there are lots of people, programmes and organisations supporting mental health in our community and the stigma of mental health is clearly abating.

With the right support, we can all be valued and valuable contributors to our families, our workplaces and our broader communities.

As a Manager, I've made it part of my role to be open and responsive to issues related to mental health, and importantly, to know how to get the help that might be needed.

(A big thanks to Dr. Helen for her advice, links and support)


Getting Help:

There are a variety of ways people can get help, including self-help. Some pathways to managing mental health include:

  • Visit a GP to get a Mental Health Treatment Plan - if you’re living with a diagnosable mental illness, you *are* entitled to receive a Medicare rebate - that’s where the Government chips in part of the cost of your appointment - on at least six, and up to ten, sessions with a psychologist every year. Read this excellent ABC 'explainer' article.

  • Your GP may consider prescribing anti-depressants

  • Psychiatry


If you’re worried about a workmate, there's a range of resources you can refer them to (some of these shared from HeadsUp):

  • Lifeline - 13 11 14 - for crisis support and suicide prevention.

  • Beyond Blue’s Support Service – 1300 22 4636 – for information and advice on depression, anxiety and related conditions, available treatments and where to get help. The information line is not a counselling or crisis line. 

  • Beyond Blue resources, including fact sheets, booklets, flyers and DVDs. These resources can be ordered online or over the phone

  • Beyond Blue website, for information on depression, anxiety and suicide prevention, available treatments and where to get help

  • Youth Beyond Bluefor information designed for young people on depression, anxiety and how to help a friend

  • SANE Australia’s website and helpline – 1800 18 SANE (7623) – provides information about symptoms, treatments, medications, where to go for support and help for carers. 

  • If you work in a larger organisation, your workplace’s human resources managers and internal support services, such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

  • R U OK?

  • Direct Line - Confidential alcohol and drug counselling and referral in Victoria 

  • PANDAs - PANDA supports women and their families who are suffering from perinatal anxiety or depression.

  • Black Dog Institute - The Black Dog Institute is a not-for-profit facility for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. 

  • Workwell Toolkit - A toolkit and funding program helping employers create mentally healthy workplaces in Victoria, delivered by WorkSafe.



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