CASE STUDY: Designing and writing a guide for workplace mental health in health providers.
Working with beyondblue to design and create an approach to mental health in health providers.
beyondblue is an independent Australian not-for-profit organisation working to reduce the impact of anxiety, depression and suicide in Australia, including advising on mental health service design. They provide information and support to help everyone achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live. beyondblue works to give everyone in Australia the confidence to speak openly about anxiety, depression and suicide – both to seek support when they need it and to check in with those close to them – and they tackle prejudice and discrimination wherever they exist.
Challenge: mental health in health providers
The mental health spectrum
Mental health is a particularly complex area of health. Conditions are often hidden, misunderstood and undiagnosed, and the stigma from decades past is still evident in the systems and language of our modern world – and in the silence. Only in recent years has the focus shifted from treatment to prevention, elevating schools, workplaces and other community institutions as important environments to foster positive attitudes and behaviour, and support people with mental health conditions.
The unique healthcare workplace
Exposure to trauma, high pressure, strict hierarchies and un-sociable hours are some of the factors presenting risks to mental wellbeing in health service workplaces. Recognising this, beyondblue has worked to promote doctors’ mental health for many years. But in light of the continuing incidence of suicide, mental health conditions, and distress in the medical community, beyondblue recently turned its focus to promoting the benefits of creating mentally healthy workplaces in healthcare and providing practical resources through the Heads Up initiative, by substantially increasing engagement with Victorian health services.
As part of this, beyondblue identified the need for health services to be better informed on and supported in creating a broad, comprehensive plan to support the mental health of all staff across the workplace. As such, it saw the need to provide a simple, practical, instructional guide for health services on how to develop and implement an overarching mental health strategy, guiding relevant personnel through the process of developing, applying and continuously improving a tailored mental health strategy in their own context.
In 2016, beyondblue engaged Ellis Jones in the development, production and dissemination approach for a resource aimed at guiding health services (including hospitals, allied health and community health services) through the process of developing a workplace mental health strategy.
Engagement and learning
Ellis Jones worked closely with the project team at beyondblue to consult a steering committee of staff working across Victorian health services such as nursing, allied health and medical frontline staff, administrators, and those working in human resources and wellness and workforce support. The committee was engaged in facilitated discussions about the unique systems, culture, hierarchies, pressures, supports and hurdles within their workplaces. This engagement developed a deep understanding of the hospitals context, through empathising with staff and the structural barriers that can prevent them from improving mental health. The committee’s role extended from sharing of insights and practical suggestions, to reviewing of the draft guide, to being the first industry advocates for the guide’s launch. In addition to the valuable input provided by the steering committee, drafts of the guide were also reviewed by a key group of national stakeholders from the broader health industry. This included the department of health, Worksafe Victoria, unions, medical colleges and professional associations.
An actionable guide for mental health in health providers
Through synthesis of and reference to a breadth documents from peer-reviewed journals and best-practice guides, in addition to what was learnt through engagement with the industry and steering committee, Ellis Jones developed a structure for the guide that emphasised usability and continuous improvement. Working closely with beyondblue, this structure was then fleshed out into a concise, accessible and supportive guide, using language and implementation tactics that are highly context-specific to a health service workforce. To further influence the usability of the guide, Ellis Jones made recommendations for document wayfinding and clear communication of process through contemporary diagrams.
Using insights gained through the engagement and guide development process, Ellis Jones then developed a dissemination plan for the final guide, to ensure it was delivered effectively into the right hands. This involved facilitating workshops with the steering committee and internal beyondblue team, using design thinking activities to gain deep insights into the audiences, influences and influencers, channels and tactics that will bring the guide to life and propel action.
“It was such a pleasure working with Ellis Jones on this project. Ellis Jones were very collaborative and maintained a high level of enthusiasm and drive across the life of the project. They were efficient and added unexpected value in the way of creative thinking and foresight. Their ability to translate complex concepts into practical, user friendly information was also key to the successful development of the resource –all of which have contributed greatly to the positive impact the resource has had, and will continue to have on Australian health services in their effort to support the mental health and wellbeing of their staff.”
– Safia Roscoe, Health Services Project Manager, beyondblue
A world first, the guide – Developing a workplace mental health strategy: A how-to guide for health services – was launched on 30th August 2017 at a special dinner for health service leaders from across Victoria. With keynote speeches by the Victorian Minister for Health and Ambulance Services, The Hon. Jill Hennessy, and beyondblue’s new chair, The Hon. Julia Gillard. The launch event demonstrated the importance of the guide and its potential impact on the health and wellbeing of all Victorians. The event, and the leadership commitment it gleaned, was followed by an action-focused pilot workshop with implementers of the guide from rural, regional and metro health services in Victoria.
In its first month, the guide was downloaded 1,266 times and 215 physical copies were ordered. It is being advocated by industry leaders such as Heads Up. beyondblue is committed to ensuring the guide does not sit dusty in desk drawers, but instead achieves its potential to truly change lives. beyondblue is now in the process of developing a national engagement strategy to ensure that the guide has an ongoing positive impact on the mental health of Australian healthcare workers; this impact will be measured over the coming years.