Ministers talk stigma and the workplace on World Mental Health Day

By Shannon Jenkins

Friday October 11, 2019

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Labor and the Liberals have marked World Mental Health Day with discussions of the stigma around mental illness and workplace wellbeing.

In a speech to Jobs Australia, Shadow Minister for Employment and Industry Brendan O’Connor called for everyone to do more when it comes to supporting mental health in the workplace.

He referred to a study by Beyond Blue that found 90% of people believe mental health in the workplace is important, yet only 50% believe their workplace is mentally healthy.

“Once people are in decent, stable jobs it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that that workplace is a mentally healthy workplace,” he said on Thursday.

“Fellow employees need to keep an eye out on their colleagues and be aware of the signs and symptoms of mental illness. Employers need to provide a workplace that allows people having issues with mental health to be able to deal with their issues. They also need to empower their workforce to have the confidence to call out bullying and other bad behaviour that reinforces the negative stereotypes of mental illness.

“And governments at every level need to play a role in developing policy responses to deal with this pervasive issue.”

READ MORE: Three questions to ask to gauge how mentally healthy your workplace is

He said dodgy data can also contribute to poor mental health.

“One recent example of this selective release of data is a recent survey the government released to the media where it was revealed that 60% of employers recruiting for lower skilled positions complained of job seekers turning up for interviews uninterested, with poor applications and personal presentation skills,” he said.

“Now if you had just read that article you would be forgiven for thinking that there is this vast cohort of unwashed surfies turning up to job interviews to go through the motions as quickly as possible so they can get back to the beach. However if you look a bit closer at the survey, which I had to put in an FOI request to get, you would find out that the 60% of employers was in fact 60% of 29 employers, 29! That means 18 employers across Australia made that claim.

“It is this sort of fudging of figures and selective reporting that only add to the misery that many job seekers face and rather than supporting them only causes further damage to mental health issues they may face.”

READ MORE: NZ workplace study shows more than quarter of employees feel depressed much of the time

Health Minister Greg Hunt took the day as an opportunity to talk about the government’s national health plan and its award-winning digital mental health gateway Head to Health.

“Supporting mental health and suicide prevention is the government’s highest health priority, and is a central feature of our Long Term National Health Plan,” he said in a statement.

“Under the plan, our aim is to deliver the world’s best mental health system, stigma-free and focused on prevention, starting with children under 12 years of age. 

“Stigma also includes self-stigma; people’s self-consciousness about their own mental health concerns. It is the main barrier to people seeking help.

“As a government, and through the nation’s leaders, organisations, schools and the community, we will work to ensure there will be no shame — including no shame in our own mental health challenges — when people seek the help they need and deserve.”

Head to Health offers information, advice, and connection to a range of free and low-cost, phone and online mental health services. It has encouraged the public to give feedback on the website via a survey, which is open until the end of the month.

According to O’Connor, 45% of Australian adults will experience mental illness in their lifetime, while 20% of Australian adults at any given time are experiencing mental illness. The issue also costs the Australian economy at least $60 billion a year.

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