The Living well @ work event was hosted in 2016 by the Mental Health Commission of NSW as part of ongoing efforts to break down stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness. The community forum was facilitated by ABC journalist Natasha Mitchell.
On the panel were WayAhead Workplaces members and speakers, Dr Sam Harvey (UNSW and Black Dog Institute), Rachel Clements (Centre for Corporate Health), Megan Kingham (Optus) and John Canning (King & Wood Mallesons).
Lawyer John Canning and hydrologist Mark Jacobsen opened the discussion, sharing their lived experience of mental illness and how they navigated work during times of distress.
“Part of my recovery was overcoming self-stigma before sharing my story at work,” Mr Canning said. “I’ve had great support from my colleagues and my workplace. I believe people do care.”
Mr Jacobsen’s employer was instrumental in helping him identify that he was unwell and needed assistance.
“I didn’t know at the time but I was having a morning of severe anxiety and panic. I didn’t want to be at work, I didn’t want to see anyone, I wanted to be at home.
“My supervisor initiated a conversation with me and was understanding,” Mr Jacobsen said.
His employer later connected Mr Jacobsen to help services including a psychiatrist, which assisted him to improve his mental health and transition back to work “a lot faster” than if he’d simply taken leave from the workplace.
The discussion canvassed other ways employers can assist someone who is experiencing a mental health issue, including management plans and the need for supervisors to be confident in initiating conversations about wellbeing.
“The greatest indicator for wellbeing at work is supportive leadership,” said event panellist and organisational psychologist, Rachel Clements.
Megan Kingham, manager of Health and Wellbeing at Optus, shared the employer’s perspective of how and why mental health is important.
“It’s an issue that’s important to the community and the community are our employees. With technological changes and increased flexibility around work, our jobs are impacting on our private lives much more than they used to. How can we then not expect our private lives to impact on our work?”
Researcher and psychiatrist A/Professor Sam Harvey said clinicians need to change their treatment approach.
“When I started as a GP, I was given a stack of sick notes and advised if anyone asked for sick leave to give them three months off.
“What people actually need to do is say to their treating clinician that work is an important part of getting well and the clinician needs to factor that into the recovery plan.”
The 90 minute event included much input from consumers and carers, as well as from organisations including Mates in Construction, Western Sydney University, RichmondPRA and SANE Australia.