Mental health training desperately needed in the workplace, says expert

by John Hilton16 Nov 2015
Untreated mental health conditions are resulting in $10.9 billion going down the drown every year due to absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims. Furthermore, more than six million Australians take sick leave every year due to mental illness.

So what can be done to improve these results?

Nataly Bovopoulos, deputy CEO of Mental Health First Aid Australia (MHFA), said one way to tackle it is for there to be Mental Health First Aid training and the appointment of MHFA Officers in Australian workplaces.

These ideas were previously not well known and implemented predominately in industries such as health care, the public sector and the tertiary education sector.

However, recently more major businesses have been embracing the initiatives, including Lendlease and the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright.

 “While there is a growing recognition by workplaces of the impact of mental health problems and an increase in awareness-raising initiatives and support for employees, not enough is being done to equip staff with the necessary skills to rapidly respond to a colleague in crisis or detect the early signs and symptoms of a mental health problem,” said Bovopoulos.

“Essentially, more needs to be done to help employees play an active role in supporting their co-workers and to respond appropriately when circumstance dictates.”

Some of the industries most at risk of mental health issues include hospitality and essential services (electricity, water, gas, waste), IT and communications, media, finance and insurance. Bovopoulos hopes these industries will more readily embrace the proposed mental health initiatives.

The MHFA training courses are flexible with their structure and can be 12-hours face-to-face, or a mixed format that comprises six-hours e-learning and a 3.5-hour face-to-face session).

The course aims to provide participants with the knowledge and skills to assist people suffering from suicidal thoughts and behaviours, non-suicidal self-injury, panic attacks, stress-reactions after a traumatic event, severe psychotic states, aggressive behaviours and sever effects of substance use.

They are also trained to identify developing mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, psychosis and substance use problems.

 “The courses don’t aim to teach people how to be counsellors or mental health professionals, but rather like traditional first aiders, how to use skills to keep others safe in crisis situations – either until professional help can be found or until the crisis resolves,” said Bovopoulos.

“By 2020 our goal is for 5% of the Australian adult population to complete MHFA training and for Mental Health First Aid Officers to be as commonplace as physical first aid officers in the workplace.”