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Mental Health Community of Practice

For: Employers and managers Service providers Advocates Information seekers

An event held twice a year for those working in the Comcare jurisdiction to discuss issues and strategies related to workplace mental health.

Resources available

The recent Mental Health Community of Practice Managing and Preventing Burnout in the Workplace, is now available to watch below.

Previous presentations

July 2021: Managing and Preventing Burnout in the Workplace

Managing and Preventing Burnout in the Workplace

Comcare held the Mental Health Community of Practice on 21 July 2021 which focused on Managing and Preventing Burnout a in the Workplace.

This video features speakers Professor Christina Maslach, Professor of Psychology (Emerita) University of California, and ARC Laureate Fellow Professor Sharon K Parker, John Curtin Distinguished Professor in Organisational Behaviour at Curtin University and Director of Centre for Transformative Work Design.


November 2020: Addressing Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace

Addressing Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace

Comcare held the Mental Health Community of Practice on 11 November 2020 which focused on Addressing Stigma in the Workplace.


Questions and answers from the event

Dr Chris Groot and Dr Michelle Blanchard

Q: We observe awareness days at my work, like RUOK? Day. How helpful are these to reducing stigma in the workplace?

MB: Awareness days can be important as they can bring attention to a particular issue. This can be important in starting a conversation, but sometimes people who are experiencing mental health issues can feel a bit like they are under the microscope. It’s important that we focus on ensuring that people affected by mental health issues feel valued and respected every day of the year.

Q: As the parent of a child that struggles with their mental health, I understand how difficult it is to accept and understand mental health issues.  How can we reduce stigma in employment when even those that are close to people living with mental health issues struggle to come to terms with and understand what is happening?

MB: It is really challenging for families that are supporting a loved one who lives with a complex mental health issue.

The area in the Our Turn to Speak survey in where people said that they experienced stigma and discrimination the most was in their interpersonal relationships - relationships with those most close to them.

One of the missing pieces is support for families and carers. So much of the support that we provide in the mental health system is for the individual who is experiencing their mental health issue and very rarely do we engage families who often are doing the very best they can, but under really challenging and really trying circumstances.

Q: What can we do to support carers of people with mental health issues in the workplace?

MB: Unfortunately, family, friends and carers can also experience stigma. This may mean that they feel they cannot be open about their loved ones’ experiences and ask for the support and flexibility they may need, for example, time off to take a loved one to an appointment.
We need to ensure that carers can be open about their experiences in workplaces and feel safe and understood, have access to personal leave to support loved ones when needed, flexible work arrangements, access to EAP etc.

SANE is part of the Caring Fairly coalition which aims to address issues relating to economic security for carers who often find themselves financially disadvantaged due to their caring responsibilities and barriers to engaging in meaningful paid employment. For more information, visit Caring Fairly.

Q: How do you distinguish between interpersonal difficulties/personality clashes/genuine performance issues and stigma relating to symptoms/disclosure of a mental health condition?

CG: With some mental health conditions, certain signs and symptoms of these experiences could play out in terms of relationship and interpersonal difficulties. If this is occurring in the context of a workplace, then the fundamental aim would be to start  a safe, open and honest discussion about what is going on for a person and to inquire around what sorts of supports they might need, honestly reflecting observations, and of course, concern. You could create a space where that person is able to have those discussions with another party, like a counselling service. It's all about inquiry as with so much of mental health.

Offering community-based mental health support is about noticing something different, that something's off and then opening up a discussion that portrays our concern - not our judgment.
R U OK? Day, for example, is founded on the premise that we can check in with each other, and through opening a discussion lead to a positive outcome. One of the fundamental strategies that one could apply here is to have that non-judgmental open discussion from a point of concern.

Q: Could you please share a risk framework and/or best practice examples of workplaces which have addressed stigma?

MB: The best place to look for resources on this is the Heads Up website. There are a range of tools and resources that employers might find useful.

SANE is also part of the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance which is working with the National Mental Health Commission to develop the National Workplace Initiative.

Q: Do you think the fact that people anticipate being treated unfairly leads them to believe that they have been treated unfairly? Is it a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy?

CG: We know that people anticipating being treated unfairly can lead them to withdrawing from opportunities, for example, not applying for a role, or putting themselves forward for a promotion. This can then mean that they are not considered for future opportunities, which may limit their participation further.

We need to ensure that when people put themselves forward, they are treated fairly and have a positive experience, so that they feel confident when future opportunities arise.

Maria Katsonis

Q: What is the most helpful thing someone has said to you when returning to work after being unwell?

MK: It’s acknowledging that I have been unwell rather than avoiding the subject with an indifferent ‘good to see you back’. If it’s someone who I would have coffee with, organising a catch up and coffee and being proactive about providing support.

Also, instead of saying ‘just ask, if you need anything’, it’s better if the person asks, ‘Is there anything I can do?’

Q: How can we get people with lived experience of mental health issues involved in the development of work initiatives and policies, especially when some staff may not want people to know about the challenges they have experienced?

MK: If possible, try and identify a trusted champion who can support the process.

For face-to-face engagement, provide a safe environment, such as bringing in an external facilitator who has a background in working with people with the lived experience of mental illness. Also hold any meetings away from prying eyes, so people feel comfortable in attending.

Keep people engaged throughout the process with access to information and progress so it’s not just a one-off consultation.

Q: What do you think is the best way to incorporate mental health days into an organisation’s leave arrangements? How can we ensure staff feel safe and supported to benefit from these kinds of arrangements?

MK: There are two options. The first is to incorporate mental health into existing sick leave provisions and make it clear that leave entitlements can be used for both physical and mental ill health. The second is to have separate mental health leave which sends a signal that the organisation sees mental health as a priority.

Staff will feel safe and supported if they are comfortable speaking about mental health at work and this means managers not being judgemental when an application for mental health leave is submitted.

Q: What would you say to a person experiencing low to medium level mental health challenges that is thinking "she'll be right", and does not want to seek help?

MK: This is a difficult one. I wouldn’t avoid any further conversation, especially if the challenges are obvious to someone else.

Find ways of creating a space where you check in with the person and which aligns with how you would normally interact, for example, coffee, lunch, a walk. Chat about eating, sleeping, exercise, concentration and open the door for an ‘I’m not right” conversation. Talk about what you are observing and share your concerns.

Q: Do you believe most people do not understand mental illness unless they have experienced it themselves? I do, that is why I believe that lived experience stories are a vital element in mental health awareness training.

MK: People’s understanding of mental illness will vary. I agree that including lived experience is critical in mental health awareness training. It illuminates the facts and stats and provides a personal perspective that is deeply engaging.

Colonel Neanne Bennett

Q: Do you see a generational or gender difference in how stigma is viewed or perceived within Defence?

NB: It's an interesting question and it's a little bit hard to answer in the sense that Defence is a very male-dominated organisation. Typically, our response rates from research probably sit at around 13 to 15% for females.

In terms of access to care, I'm not sure that we see much difference there at all, however we do for presenting problems. Our data would suggest that females present a little bit more with the anxiety-related conditions and are less likely to have alcohol or substance use concerns.
There are also differences across the services in presentations as well. From a generational perspective, yes, there has been a shift since the time that I joined the Army. The way people talk about mental health has changed significantly, including people's willingness to actually seek people out and ask questions.

Our senior leaders have become very strong advocates for mental health. When I first joined, people would make jokes about, "Oh, I can't be seen talking to you since you’re an army psychologist. You don't know what people will say.” Whereas now everybody wants psychologists to come to the table and be part of a conversation, whether that's in terms of preparing for training, operational planning, etc. We are a constant request. That is a fabulous step forward and certainly reflects how far we've come in this journey.

Q: Once your current strategy is fully implemented, what would you like to do next to reduce stigma within Defence?

NB: We still have scope to improve what we're doing in our lived experience space. We are definitely working in that space, but I think we have capacity to standardise that and make it a more enduring framework.

Our next strategy will certainly be informed by the data that we collect as part of our continuous improvement, monitoring and evaluation. We have a number of programs but being able to use the information that we collect to see whether or not they're actually doing what we think they do, or whether we're targeting the right areas, will be really important. That will be a significant step in terms of what we do next to keep working in the stigma space.

Q: Is the strategy available online?

NB: Yes, you can find the strategy: Defence Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2018-2023 on the Defence website.

December 2019: Workplace Bullying

Legal frameworks surrounding bullying in the workplace—Cilla Robinson (Partner, Clayton Utz)

Workplace bullying—Michelle Tuckey (University of South Australia)

Preventing bullying at work—John Kovacic (Fair Work Commission)

May 2019: Improving Workplace Culture and Civility

Strengthening a culture of respect and engagement in the workplace—Professor Michael P Leiter (Deakin University) and Jo Wintle (Peoplescape)

Strengthening a culture of respect and engagement in the workplace—Professor Michael P Leiter (Deakin University) and Jo Wintle (Peoplescape) from Comcare on Vimeo.

Moving beyond wellbeing programs and mental health strategies—Karen Oldaker (Medibank)

Moving beyond wellbeing programs and mental health strategies—Karen Oldaker (Medibank) from Comcare on Vimeo.

Building thriving workplaces—Margo Lydon (Superfriend)

Building thriving workplaces—Margo Lydon (Superfriend) from Comcare on Vimeo.

November 2018: Managing Organisational Change

Introduction to the Community of Practice—Natalie Bekis (Comcare)

The evidence of positive change management—Kirsten Way (Australian Catholic University)

Managing organisational change: a case study of transition of the Australian Astronomical Observatory—Clare McLaughlin (Department of Industry, Innovation and Science)

Getting ready for change in the digital disruption—Kylie Watson (Deloitte)

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Page last reviewed: 12 July 2021
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Date printed 18 Oct 2021