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Coping with mental illness in the workplace

Sasha Karen
19 December 2016 2 minute readShare
A person hunched over

Being a business owner can be a trying experience, and can be exacerbated further by mental health issues. What should business owners be aware of about tackling mental illness stigmas?

Dealing with mental health issues is certainly a difficult task, and statistics show that it’s something business owners will have to face more and more: either coping with illness themselves or among their employees.

Speaking to sister publication Lawyers Weekly on The Lawyers Weekly Show podcast, Sam Refshauge, the CEO of not-for-profit mental health organisation batyr, says that at least 20 per cent of all Australians currently suffer from some form of mental illness.

“If you look at the statistics, we're actually not heading in a great direction,” Sam says.

“The ABS released their Causes of Death report earlier this year, and suicide across all age ranges is actually at a 10-year high.

A person hunched over“If you look at the impact [of that] – and suicide is a result of many different causes, mental ill health being one of those – it's pretty harrowing and pretty scary.”

He adds: “If you couple that with the fact that one in four or one in five … are suffering from mental ill health, and only 20 to 30 per cent of those are getting the help they need, you can get really caught up in that hopelessness. Even just talking through that, it gets you a little bit scared.”

However, with suicide and mental illness rates on the rise, so too are attempts to tackle the issue, according to Sam.

“You take step back from that, and ... you think about what you can do to change it,” he says.

“Big campaigns that [organisations like beyondblue have] been running and the advocacy that they've been doing across the country are to get awareness out there, [and they have] really shifted the mental health literacy and the understand of what's going on, and being able to put names and labels to mental health, which I think is starting to shift the broader awareness.

“I especially think in the last five years or so, the willingness to have a conversation, the willingness to admit that mental health is an issue that we need to talk about and need to address, is really taking a shift.”

Sam says that business owners can do their part in helping mental illness sufferers. A big part of this involves being flexible in working hours.

“What can we do to shift the stigma? What can we do to make it OK to reach out for the services that are out there?” he says.

“[Business leaders need] to create an empathetic environment in which people feel OK to say, 'Look, I'm not feeling up to it today. I need to take the day off,' or, 'Look, I feel like I'm overrun, I'm getting too stressed about what's going on. I need some support here’,” he says.

“I think over the next five years, we're really going to see that, because people can no longer hide from the terrible statistics that we're currently facing.”

My Business has previously published articles exploring issues of mental health within the workplace for both employees and business owners.

If you’d like to talk to someone or refer an employee, friend or relative for help, you can call beyondblue’s support service on 1300 22 4636.

Coping with mental illness in the workplace
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Sasha Karen

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