Is 2020 the start of the decade we finally tame the black dog?

“black dog” noun – a metaphorical representation of melancholy or depression.

I’ll be the first to say that we have come a very long way in the struggle to get mental health difficulties and disorders recognised in the workplace and moving towards getting rid of the stigma attached to anxiety and depression. So much has already been done by organisations such as Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute, and The Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance (Headsup) to raise awareness and support mental health in the modern workplace.

While a lot has been achieved and awareness has grown, I believe we still have a long way to go when it comes to not only removing the stigma but implementing a best practice approach to helping employees who find themselves struggling with a mental health condition.

By helping, I am referring not only to training managers in awareness and mental health first aid – but to a much broader approach to supporting an employee once they have started to exhibit signs of mental and emotional distress and/or have disclosed that they are struggling with a mental health condition.

Many mental health professionals who work in the field are aware that a study was completed by PwC a number of years ago showing that for every $1.00 an organisation spends on mental health and well-being initiatives they could expect an approximate $2.30 return on investment. That is a solid investment!

The dollars and cents (in terms of the return on investment) pale in comparison to what happens when an organisation stands by their employees, many of whom will most likely experience a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression at some point during the working lives. The level of commitment and goodwill that is gained as well as what is called good “organisational citizenship behaviour” would be hard to measure in terms of return to the organisation. This kind of return includes knowledge and skill retention, improved workplace culture (especially as other employees see how their fellow colleagues are treated during a difficult time in their lives), as well as increasing what is known as discretionary effort – where an employee goes above what is required from the job.

Perhaps a thought for all business leaders, HR and WH&S professionals in 2020 should be:

Given the fact that we know that 1 in 10 employees suffer from depression and approximately 1 in 6 struggle with anxiety- what are we doing not only to assist those people but what are we – as an empathic employer – doing to make sure our organisation is not contributing to any increasing mental health difficulties our employees may be experiencing.

There are a range of steps an organisation can follow to review their workplace practices such as ensuring accurate and realistic job descriptions and workloads, taking decisive action and ensuring a no tolerance policy for a culture of fear, bullying or harassment of any kind, as well as upskilling their people leaders and workforce in general around mental health and how best to support colleagues to remain connected to the workforce.

Work provides such powerful mental health benefits such as structure, income, social support as well as a sense of meaning and purpose. It is important to know when and how to create a “stay-at-work-plan”, rather that allow the employee to leave the workplace and then attempt a return to work process.

The benefits to organisations of identifying what they can put into place around mental health support and initiatives are bountiful in terms of reduced costs, increased productivity and improved organisational culture, not to mention becoming a well known “great place to work”.

David Fox is a psychologist, author and trainer with a passion for working with organisations to implement best practice mental health programmes.

If you would like David to come to your organisation to provide on-site talks, seminars or training on mental health and well-being please contact info@foxpsychology.com.au or call 0421 154 467. You can also visit https://foxpsychology.com.au/workshops-seminars/

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David Fox is an author, speaker and registered psychologist with a masters degree in psychology. He believes that overcoming issues like anxiety and depression are best tackled on multiple fronts such as exercise, supplements, working with your thoughts and beliefs, watching your diet and talking to someone who can provide empathy and support while you figure things out. His goal is teach people individually and within organisations in how to help themselves thrive. In addition, David supports patients who would like to eventually reduce or potentially stop taking anti-depressant medication if they are finding major negative side effects from remaining on the medications and looking for alternative routes to a better quality of life. This is not for everyone, and yes some people may need to remain on some amount of medication – especially those with bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia. However, for those whose issues began as anxiety and/or depression, there may certainly be another way to healing other than medication. David is the author of the book Change your Life! Hope and Healing for Anxiety and Depression.

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