How to achieve good mental health across Australia.

We have a journey ahead to achieve good mental health across Australia and the many benefits it will bring. So how do we get there?

At EJ we mapped all the issues and opportunities we’ve been exposed to in our work, and we asked ourselves, ‘how can we help?’.

There may be other focus areas we have missed, but there is plenty of direction here for our collaborators, clients and communities of practice. 

Strengthening workplaces

Most Australians work. We do so according to job design, established regimes and company policies. Interactions are planned and informal, with a range of social norms, and guided by industry, team or work setting. Because of their structure with defined parameters, workplaces are an important means to educate, connect, establish nurturing environments, and seek support for good mental health.

Large workforces can represent the general population in social, economic, cultural, gender and disability demographics. Regional businesses may have a significant present in geographically located communities. This represents opportunity and a responsibility to get the narrative, policy and programs right.

So, what can organisations do?

  • Read the Blueprint for Mentally Healthy Workplaces and engage leaders and teams in conversations about the value of good mental health.
  • Develop and activate mental health strategy, co-designing content, programs and initiatives with different teams to reflect the diversity of work, workplaces and workers.
  • And programs that reflects the nature of the organisation and its setting/industry.
  • Start, or build on, the organisational journey to maturity by defining a vision for your mentally healthy workplace, the principles it is built upon, and a roadmap so people have confidence that action is being taken at the pace, and with the focus, the organisation needs.
  • Go beyond the negative metrics such as LTIs and Workcover claims. Measure positive employee and customer mental health and wellbeing, and the relationship to other business performance metrics.
  • Make mental health a key feature of the organisation’s social impact, reporting to employees, customers and shareholders via an ESG framework.
  • Go back to the fundamentals on worker mobility and workplace design, facilitating discussions with employees at different career levels, and taking learnings from COVID into job, team, and workflow design.

Establishing policy and standards

If we have good references applicable to our work and life contexts, then we have more confidence in our action and we can track progress.

Mental health strategy and policy is emerging from a period in which the expectation has been, ‘if you have an issue, tell us’ and where the response was, ‘talk to our EAP’ (employee assistance program).

Business leaders focused on measurable outcomes have realised that promoting mindfulness and wellbeing via an EAP will not yield results unless the company is intentional about defining, promoting and protecting mental health – and responding effectively when challenges arise.

The National Workplace Initiative managed by the National Mental Health Commission and supported by the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance, is working on establishing a single destination for all organisations and individuals seeking trusted, evidence based advice and materials.

However, every organisation – whether commercial, public sector or community based – needs to adapt policies, programs and content to their unique context.

To get cracking:

  • Understand national policy and standards, and consider how they should be expressed in your industry and organisation. Build your own policy and standards to act as a reference for decision-making, establishing positive pathways to good mental health.
  • Consider the power of the language you use; adopt the Life in Mind Charter.
  • Understand and respond to the intersecting psychological, social and environmental (as in setting) challenges: consider social and cultural attitudes, behavioural norms and biases, influence and hierarchy.
  • Define and act on policy and strategy intersections such as D&I and OH&S to destigmatise complex mental health conditions and support every worker, customer and community member to be their best at work and at home.
  • Ask, if an employee working from home needs to, will they claim on personal or company insurance? Consider insurance arrangements and monitor how state insurance agencies and private health/life insurance companies are responding to mental health to establish a basis from which to adapt.

Designing and promoting services

The pandemic saw Australia rush online. It was needed and helped many people; it also left others behind.

While COVID-19 affects everyone, the social and economic impacts on young people have been disproportionate, comprising high rates of psychological distress, loneliness, educational disruption, unemployment, housing stress and domestic violence.

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System has provided leadership and guidance on what we need to do to improve services , foster community connection and peer support, and build and act on evidence-based knowledge. The fact sheets are a great place to start considering how communities, workplaces and service providers can improve outcomes.

Mental heath is a key consideration in any health or social service: from corrections to education, and housing to health services. To get moving we can:

  • Understand the needs, perceptions and behaviours of mainstream and hard to reach or disadvantaged consumers to address barriers, misconceptions, attitudes and the range of influences on people’s willingness to address mental health.
  • Co-design policy, programs and services with the uses of services, challenging the status quo and reimaging the use of public space and facilities as well as digital domains.
  • Employ people with complex mental health issues to guide, design and implement policy and programs.
  • Strengthen understanding and adoption of peer worker programs in health settings.
  • Re-design health services, settings and system intersections to make mental health support and treatment available, accessible, culturally safe and a consistent consideration across the health and care continuum.
  • Digital transformation to leverage the reach, accessibility, personalisation – as well as risks – that the pandemic driven rush to digital health has created.
  • Behavioural insights and behaviour change interventions and campaigns to mobilise people within systems – from service employees to consumers.
  • Health promotion to increase awareness and referral to credible and effective services.

There is, of course, much complexity to address in many of these focus areas; and, the list provided here do not comprise all the activities we need to undertake. But to establish a direction is to start the journey. We all have a responsibility to look close to home, but also over the fence and into the communities we know and love. We all benefit from achieving good mental health across Australia.

Good mental health. It’s our greatest asset.