Good mental health
According to the World Health Organisation, good mental health is not simply an absence of a mental disorder. It is a state of wellbeing where an individual:
- realises their own potential
- manages everyday stresses
- works productively
- contributes to their community.
However, due to complex interactions between the mind, body and environment, mental illness and problems can develop. This can affect a person’s thinking, their emotional state and behaviour. It can disrupt a person’s ability to work or carry out other daily activities as well as engage in satisfying personal relationships.
There are many statistics available on how many people will experience mental health problems. From the employer’s perspective, it is estimated that between 15 per cent and 30 per cent of employees will experience mental health problems.
Further information: A mental illness is clinically diagnosed according to standardised criteria and can significantly affect how a person thinks, behaves and interacts with other people. A mental health problem is a broader term including both mental illness and symptoms of mental illness.
The Western Australian Mental Health Commission has produced Supporting good mental health in the workplace; a resource for agencies.
What general factors influence mental health?
When someone is under chronic stress, it can negatively affect that person’s physical and mental health.
Stress can be caused by a variety of events including:
- a major accident
- a death in the family or to a friend
- personal threats
- injury or major health issue.
Social factors such as isolation, financial problems, family breakdown or violence can also influence a person’s mental health.
What work issues can affect mental health?
Fatigue and working hours
Fatigue can result from long hours or arduous work (mental or physical), little or poor sleep, and the time of day when work is performed. It can be influenced by health and emotional issues, or by several of these factors in combination. Fatigue can accumulate over a period of time.
Bullying, aggression and violence
Workplace bullying is repeated unreasonable or inappropriate behaviour directed towards one or more workers, that creates a risk to health and safety. Bullying includes intimidation, threats, humiliation and victimisation.
Health effects from bullying vary, but can include,
- stress, anxiety or sleep disturbance
- ill health or fatigue
- panic attacks or impaired ability to make decisions
- incapacity to work, concentration problems or reduced output and performance
- loss of self-confidence and self-esteem
- depression or a sense of isolation
- physical injury
- reduced quality of home and family life
- post-traumatic stress syndrome
- in extreme cases, risk of suicide.
Steps should be taken to stop this behaviour within the workplace. If the situation cannot be resolved, the incident can be reported to Resources Safety. A written report is required with sufficient information to support an investigation.
A significant occupational stress hazard is working alone or in isolation, (e.g. long hours operating equipment or driving a vehicle). This can lead to fatigue, particularly if there is insufficient communication, such as no radio contact or visits by colleagues and supervisors.
Alcohol and other drugs
Considerable research has documented the extent to which mental health conditions are coincident with alcohol and other drug use. This can apply at both the working environment and at home.
What can be done to promote a positive workplace?
The actions that promote good mental health in the workplace are the same as those that contribute to a productive and positive working environment.
The general obligations regarding duty of care should include maintaining an environment that supports good mental health as well as safety and physical health.
Workers (including those who have a mental illness) have a duty to take reasonable care to ensure their own safety and health at work, and to avoid negatively affecting the safety or health of another person through an act or omission.
Employers should keep in mind the risk factors that can affect mental health in the general and work environment, and how their policies, procedures and work practices might influence those factors.
Minerals safety legislation expands on the concept of general duty of care and has supporting guidance material.
Strategies to consider
The following actions should be considered as part of a workplace risk assessment for mental health.
- Consider the direct and indirect safety and health impacts (e.g. fatigue, psychological stress) of each task or process when planning work. If necessary, change some aspects of the job or alter the way in which tasks are done.
- Ensure people are aware of the employee assistance program and how to access it.
- Act on discrimination or bullying, including the use of inappropriate language.
- Use prominent and respected champions to reinforce messages about mental health.
- people to maintain a balance between physical, mental and social wellbeing
- regular team meetings.
- Promote a culture of performance feedback that encompasses regular one-to-one discussions between managers, supervisors and workers.
- Provide additional levels of support such as a buddy, coach or mentor to provide assistance as needed.
Privacy legislation requires that personal information about a worker’s mental health status is not disclosed to anyone without the worker’s consent.
Tools for employers and workplaces
Although developed by the WA Mental Health Commission for public sector chief executive officers and managers, Supporting good mental health in the workplace; a resource for agencies is a useful resource for any workplace to highlight the importance of good mental health at work and how employees can be supported through effective workforce management strategies. The publication discusses promoting mental health and wellbeing in the workplace through training, managing performance, and supporting individuals, and describes the support services and resources that are available.
Heads up provide individuals and businesses tools to create more mentally healthy workplaces.
Comcare has resources on creating and promoting mental health in the workplace.
The psychosocial audit and accompanying guide has been designed to assist industry identify and manage psychosocial risks in Western Australia's resources industry.
A baseline report has been developed which summarises audit information collected from mining operations, and petroleum and major hazard facilities from February to October 2016.
There are a number of web resources for individuals. These also contain information useful for colleagues, supervisors and employers.
Lifeline provides 24 hour access to crisis support and suicide prevention services. Call 13 11 14 for 24 hour crisis support or use their online one-on-one crisis support service.
The Mental Health Commission has more on mental health as well as information on assistance services.
Mindhealthconnect provides mental health and wellbeing information, support and services.
Beyondblue works to increase awareness and understanding of anxiety and depression in Australia. They have support information and resources for individuals and organisations.
Some people use alcohol or other drugs to cope with work-related stress. WA Alcohol and Drug Information Services (ADIS). provides a confidential, non-judgemental 24/7 support helpline.
Mining Family Matters produces The Survival Guide for Mining Families, which describes practical ways to keep relationships healthy and families happy.
The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA has produced a Blueprint for mental health and wellbeing.