Speak Up about Mental Health in the Workplace
Are you okay?
It’s a simple question, often raised flippantly in water cooler conversation. It can also be said in ways like, ‘how’s it going?’ ‘how are you?’ ‘what’s happening?’, but all variations are often met with the response, ‘good’, ‘fine’, ‘alright’. How often do we ask, are you okay, and really listen to the answer? You may say you listen every time, but is it only on days like R U OK Day that you stop and focus? At Taylors, mental health in the workplace is as vital as physical health, and we’re working toward raising awareness around the issue that needs to be addressed.
In light of R U OK Day this year, the Taylors office took the opportunity to officially recognise the initiative and progress toward implementing a framework that will aim to reduce the stigma around mental health discussions.
‘The safety of our people is paramount. We have robust processes in place to ensure that we keep our people safe from physical harm, and there is daily communication about putting safety first,’ shared Culture and Engagement Manager, Kate Barnett. ‘We want to create an environment where people feel just as safe when is comes to communicating about their mental wellbeing, so we’re widening the scope in our approach and making tools available to them when they are not feeling okay.’
‘Part of that focus has been the introduction of the R U OK? Initiative to our health & welling calendar. It brings mental health to the fore on this particular day, but also serves as a reminder to ask the question more often and hopefully make a meaningful difference to somebody that might be struggling’.
‘We’re hoping to take away the stigma that is often associated with mental health. It might be that someone is just having a bad day and they need somebody that they can chat with to get things off their chest, however there may be others at the other end of the spectrum that are experiencing serious mental health concerns that they need to share with a member of the team so that the business can offer support.’
For HSEQ Manager, Matthew Yates, the issue of knowing how to begin the conversation is an important one. His personal experience with the impact of mental health is what has inspired him to bring the issue to the forefront. ‘Traditionally it’s a bit taboo, people are under the assumption that asking is taboo, but you do far greater damage by not asking the question. I had my mate take his life, three days after his 14th birthday, and his parents were asking the question, ‘why did he do it?’’
‘I didn’t have any answers for them, I didn’t know any of the signs or what to look for, and it haunts me to this day. But it’s one of the few reasons why I’m really passionate about getting it out there and increasing the focus. I want people to be able to talk about a mental health condition as much as they talk about a physical condition, a mental health issue should be as easy to talk about as an injured knee and it’s not, and it’s infuriating. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done there but we’ve got the right people around us in order to get it rolling.’
One of the reason mental health discussions often fall to the wayside is due to the thought of ‘it doesn’t happen to everyone’ and the stigma that if it doesn’t directly impact you, it doesn’t matter; this is not the case however. At a recent Survey Congress, Taylors Senior Licensed Surveyor, Mark Sommerville heard from the Surveyor General of Victoria, Craig Sandy, who shared his story of depression and how he was able to deal with it.
‘It goes to show that people in our profession are not exempt from this illness and everyone should be aware of its existence and how to address it.’ Mark commented. ‘Fellow surveyors in the audience recounted similar stories in their lives, and this highlighted that it is more common than most people acknowledge.’
‘It’s about being able to manage these discussions on a day to day basis,’ Kate acknowledged. ‘I think we work in a fairly high-pressure environment from time to time – there’s a lot happening in the operational space – so we need people to feel like they can come and have those conversations and we can work through them for their own wellbeing; they have a support network here. It’s about creating a safe environment for people as we would on site, it’s just as important as people’s physical health in the field.’
‘Essentially, you’ve got to reduce the stigma, we all have a responsibility to ourselves and others to look after someone’s mental health as much as their physical health.’ Matt reinforced. ‘There’s a lot of stigma attached, and a lot of history always tried to sweep it under the rug, particularly in the parents and grandparents’ generation it was viewed as very much a weakness. In growing opinion, it’s very much the worst thing you can do, and that’s backed up by various studies. Everyone has to be given a little more knowledge in how to ask the question and that it’s okay to ask the question.
We’re providing people with the advice, the knowledge, and where to go to, and how to respond if someone does say ‘no, I’m not okay’ and where to go from there. Listening is a big part of that and checking in, but also knowing the signs in order to strike up the conversation to begin with, and that’s what we’re going to focus on here and we’ll be increasing that level of focus to reduce that stigma further and get to a point here where everyone is a ‘wellbeing leader’.
We talk about safety leadership and everyone knows their duty of care, but I’d like to get it where if I was to stand in the middle of a room and say ‘who considers themselves to be a wellbeing leader’ you’d have everyone put their hand up That’s certainly where we want to get to and we will get there.’
R U OK Day serves a reminder to ask the question frequently, it’s not just about asking once a year, it’s about checking in with those around you as often as it takes. Sometimes you can sense that somebody isn’t having a great day but if you ask the question, ‘are you okay?’ and they say no, the thought of ‘how do I respond to that, what do I do?’ can rise, but that is where the R U OK website is helpful, and Taylors is addressing how we can all learn how to help in that situation.
If you find yourself in a position where you are wanting support, then contact any of the helplines on the R U OK website: https://www.ruok.org.au/findhelp