When James Packer resigned from the board of Crown Resorts and quit as chairman of Consolidated Press Holdings in March, he shocked the world by openly admitting it was due to mental health issues.
In the days after, Mr Packer’s candour and courage in acknowledging his personal troubles was widely praised.
In recent years, other high-profile Australians have been similarly candid about mental health issues. They include MPs John Brogden and Neil Cole, former trade minister Andrew Robb, netball star Sharni Layton, Sarah Wilson of I Quit Sugar fame, and Victoria’s chief commissioner of police, Graham Ashton.
In a statement after Mr Packer’s announcement, beyondblue chief executive Georgie Harman reminded Australians that talking openly about mental health issues helped reduce stigma, tackle discrimination and challenge stereotypes.
Top netballer Sharni Layton opens up on her mental health injury: https://t.co/K92oufDyGR
— beyondblue (@beyondblue) March 28, 2018
Beyondblue says one in five Australian workers will experience a mental health issue. Work pressure and job insecurity are increasingly to blame.
“Employees are experiencing greater stress and distress because they are increasingly expected to work at a faster pace, with fewer breaks and constant changes in technology,” Workplace Mental Health Institute chief executive Peter Diaz said.
Yet, beyondblue’s own research had found only 50 per cent of Australians believe their most senior workplace leader values mental health.
Stigma or support?
SANE Australia chief executive Jack Heath said it was wise to do some research before approaching your employer about any mental health concerns.
“Does your organisation openly recognise issues like stress in the workplace, and discuss mental health in relation to employees?” he said.
“Does it encourage work-life balance? Do managers and leaders talk openly about their own mental health? Are there colleagues who have taken time off for mental health issues and, if so, were they treated with respect or stigmatised?”
In a workplace with a culture of understanding, valuing and prioritising mental health, a confidential conversation with a manager about depression or anxiety might lead to greater support, Mr Heath said.
“Your workplace is required to make work adjustments,” he said. “Those are negotiated and may include flexitime, or permission to work from home on some days. Many larger organisations now do this kind of thing very well.”
But according to Mr Diaz, if mental health is not on your employer’s radar, then disclosing depression or anxiety might not be a good idea.
“If your work culture is very pressured, with staff expected to live for their job, work through lunch, work overtime and soldier on from one tight deadline to the next without any break, then being open about your mental health could be met with stigma and discrimination,” he said.
If necessary, formal complaints can be made to the Australian Human Rights Commission. In reality, however, Mr Diaz said most people simply resigned and moved to a new job – and kept their health issues a secret.
What we need, he said, is a reboot, to make mental health issues top priority.
Simple steps can help, including encouraging staff to take regular breaks, eat lunch away from their desk and leave work at the office. Some companies also bring in experts to talk about strategies to promote mental health and well-being, and allow staff time off if necessary, Mr Diaz said.
“We also need to train managers to recognise signs of work stress so they can offer staff support before the stress triggers depression or anxiety,” he said.
Beyondblue has free online resources for employers to increase understanding of mental health in the workplace
Heads Up, a support service dedicated to mental health in the workplace, says it can be useful to practise what you’re going to say with a friend or family member before you talk to your employer.
Beyondblue and Heads Up have developed a three-step tool to help people weigh up the issues. There is also a conversation guide.