Workplaces ideal environment for life-changing conversations

Thursday, 13 September 2018

R U OK? Day is all about creating communities and safe spaces where people can openly share their struggles. It’s about encouraging human connection in a time when people feel more isolated than ever. One in five people experience mental illness over the course of their life, which means a lot of people need support. But it can take a lot of courage to ask ‘R U OK?’, especially when there’s a high likelihood the answer may be ‘no’.

Partnership boosts mental health in workplaces

In 2017, EPIC Assist (EPIC) teamed up with Mental Health at Work (mh@work) to offer mental health awareness training to businesses. EPIC CEO Bill Gamack says it’s been encouraging to see the strong impact these workshops are having in real workplaces across Australia.

“The workshops provide a safe space for people to explore their feelings and get a better handle on mental health. They learn about supporting someone who is struggling, and how to reach out if they are in need themselves. Essentially, they realise it is OK to not be OK all the time,” explains Bill.

“Everyone is touched by mental illness or suicide in some way. We’ve seen groups of men moved to tears in these workshops.”

“Sharing experiences and knowing you’re not alone makes all the difference in creating a real community.”

Creating a work culture of understanding and safety

In addition to arming people with tangible skills for initiating brave conversations, the workshops send an important message to employees within an organisation.

“When people realise that their organisation is actively working to create an environment of support and understanding, which values the mental health of all employees, the entire culture begins to shift. We’ve seen that,” says Bill.

“Workplaces are ideal environments in which to observe changes in our colleagues. Teammates spend a huge amount of time together, so at times a workmate might see a change in their behaviour before that person’s family or friends have noticed anything.”

Workshops draw on lived experience of mental illness

The secret behind the success of this training stems from its focus on lived experience. mh@work founder Ingrid Ozols’ own experience living with mental illness sparked her passion to create change within workplaces across Australia.

“I was diagnosed with a mental illness which first showed up when I was 7 or 8. I’ve had thoughts of suicide, and did in fact try to kill myself several times when I was 18 or 19,” says Ingrid.

“I’ve always been someone that people came to with deeply personal information, and the further involved in HR I became, the more time I spent listening to people’s problems.

“I was required to speak to people about performance issues at work, but my gut was saying, ‘there seems to be more going on here.’ Their work performance was being impacted, but it was because of these other health issues.

“I began to see that this was quite common and a lot of people experience all sorts of mental illness, but we never talked about it and never knew what to do with it,” she says.

Start a life-changing conversation

Ingrid and Bill feel proud of the work done by EPIC and mh@work, and the life-changing brave conversations their organisations have helped initiate.

“It’s vital that employees are supported to have conversations that are uncomfortable, but that they have some confidence in having,” says Ingrid.

“We’re human and we’re not invincible. Life can be tough. That’s why it’s so important we have the skills and courage to say ‘I’m not OK’ and take action if someone says that to us,” adds Bill.

Find out more about EPIC’s mental health awareness workshops.