R U OK? Mental Health Policy in the workplace
We spend a large percentage of our waking hours at work with our colleagues. We work in teams, we chat, we collaborate, we often become friends. As an employer, we feel responsible in providing a safe and productive environment for our staff. ‘Safety’ and ‘Care’ are important keywords in the automotive industry. We repair vehicles to the highest quality and safety standards. We provide the right tools to do the job, we make sure we wear steel capped boots and wear safety googles. AASDN members take their duty of care seriously.
But what about the emotional and mental well-being? Whilst the topic can be off-putting and rather difficult to tackle, it is essential to the success of our businesses. From a legal point of view it is still a bit of a grey zone, but I have no doubt, that mental health will become part of Work, Health & Safety compliance in the near future. Mental health of staff plays a big role in productivity and even potential damage to relationships with clients or staff. Does your business have a mental health policy? We have put some handy resources together for you to download, brief your staff or simply display in your lunchrooms.
Award-winning coach, mental health advocate, writer and speaker Sharon Chisholm has written this article exclusively for the AASDN group. Sharon works with entrepreneurs and small business owners helping them with a variety of challenges from low confidence and self-esteem, through to mind health issues such as anxiety and depression. Sharon writes for a number of publications and regularly speaks about her own lived experience with mental illness, as well as hosting her own podcast called the “Mental as Anything Podcast”. She also facilitates workshops on mental health in the workplace and advises government bodies on how they can better support the small business owners in this field.
Putting the “Men” in Mental Health.
by Sharon Chisholm
If you buy into the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” idea, men and women tackle their problems differently. Men like to retreat into their cave and attempt to come up with their own solutions, whereas women like to express their thoughts and feeling with others, in an attempt to seek assistance and guidance. Perhaps this is driven by genetics, or perhaps it is driven by thousands of years of men being the “providers” and women being the “care givers”. Whatever the reason, men are dying by suicide at a rate of over 3:1 compared to women.
These are shocking statistics and while there may be a whole host of reasons for this, it is time for a change.
Traditionally men were the ones who financially and physically supported the family. If there was a danger, it was typically the man who was looked to for safety and reassurance. Women were seen as the fairer or “weaker” sex and it was generally their responsibility to take care of the home and children. It was deemed unfortunate, but acceptable for a man to be physically injured and the community would rally around to provide assistance. Any sign that a man was struggling emotionally however, was seen as a weakness and a character flaw. Sadly, whilst the role of women has changed dramatically over the past 100 years, the role of men is still perceived as being the protector, the provider, the rock of the family – an enormous pressure to carry around every day.
So what are the thought processes that occur when someone is struggling mentally?
- I’m a failure
- I’m worthless
- I’m letting everyone down
- I’m weak
- I’m ashamed
- I feel hopeless
- A “real” man doesn’t cry
- No-one will trust me
- I’ll lose my job
- I’m afraid
For generations boys have been told to “man up”, “stop being a cry baby”, “stop behaving like a girl”, “don’t be a sissy” – is it any wonder that they grow up unable to express when they are having difficulties?
What happens if men don’t learn to talk about their mental health?
Whilst suicidal ideation is more common in women than in men, far more men actually act on this ideation and it is thought that it might be in part to the fact that men tend to be more impulsive than women. Generally speaking though, suicide is not an impulsive act, but rather something that is planned and meticulously executed. Men often have a long journey with self-medicating first as a way of trying to avoid dealing with their negative emotions, but sadly this doesn’t work.
Admitting that you are feeling anxious, isolated or depressed is not an easy thing to do, in fact it can be downright terrifying and that’s why it is important to choose who you speak to wisely. That being said, it can be the most empowering thing you will ever do.
If you have been experiencing any of the following for more than two weeks, it might mean that you are suffering with depression, but this in itself is not a diagnosis. A GP will be able to provide a formal assessment and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.
- Reduced interest in usual hobbies or activities
- Withdrawing from family, friends and/or colleagues
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Reduced or increased appetite
- Self-medicating with food, alcohol or drugs
- Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or overwhelm
- Physical pain not caused by injury
- Irrational behaviour or outbursts of emotions such as anger
- Unable to concentrate or make decisions
If you recognise any of these behaviours in yourself there are a number of ways you can seek help.
- Talk to your partner, close family member, friend or colleague. However well we try to hide our emotions and concerns from those we love, they are usually aware that we are struggling even before we are ready to acknowledge it ourselves.
- Visit your doctor and if possible, take someone along to support you emotionally. If when you see your GP, you don’t feel understood or taken seriously, it is important that you find another doctor who better understands mental health issues.
- Visit many of the online mental health resources:
If you recognise any of these behaviours in others, there are many ways in which you can help them:
- Ask if the other person would like to have a coffee, go for a walk, take time out for a chat,
- express your concern for them and explaining why you feel this way,
- creating a safe and open dialogue for the other person to open up,
- don’t judge, criticise or negate their thoughts and feelings,
- let them know that they are not alone and that they have your support,
- don’t try to fix them, instead ask how you might support them moving forward.
Please try and avoid:
- Reminding them what they have to be happy about or grateful for,
- telling them it’s all in their head or things aren’t as bad as they seem,
- saying “think positively” or “have you tried meditating?”,
- suggesting a night down the pub (many people with mental health issues self-medicate with alcohol)
- trying to fix them.
If you believe someone is in danger of harming themselves or others, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Useful resources for your workplace:
Download the guide here: How to ask staff R U OK? – A practical guide for the workplace
Find some useful resources for businesses here: www.headsup.org.au