A prominent mental health advocate is urging business owners to look out for signs of mental distress among workers, given the high proportion of suicides linked to problems at work.
Pedro Diaz, founder of the Workplace Mental Health Institute, quoted a Victorian study which found that 17 per cent of suicides could be linked to problems in the workplace.
“Which is fairly high, because when you take into account that suicide is [usually] a very private thing, it’s a very private action,” he told My Business.
Mr Diaz said the current state of affairs in Australia surrounding the public plebiscite on marriage equality should particularly be concerning for all employers.
“Not because of the topic itself, it’s because of the reactions people are having – they are having really emotive reactions on both sides of the fence. And by emotive, I’m not talking about good emotions, I’m talking about conflict – high levels of conflict,” he said.
“High levels of conflict is not good for people if it’s kept up for a long time. In actual fact, there are studies that have been done which show that if people remain in high-stress situations – combat situations – for over six months, they in almost all cases develop PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], which is a fairly traumatic and hard to move mental health issue.”
“You can’t dent the suffering.”
Mr Diaz said in light of public comments made about marriage equality, it has become evident that many people are not being respectful of one another’s personal views and situations. If such behaviour is brought into the workplace, it can become an occupational health and safety issue.
People who identify as LGBTI are the obvious victims of the campaign, given the public spotlight is being put on their personal lives and the ongoing confusion around where their future lies. However, other employees may also suffer adverse effects from the divisive campaign.
The ABC reported on the plight of Australian Muslims, who fear expressing their views for attracting criticism of their faith.
“Unfortunately, in the current climate, the right and conservative side has attacked Muslims as terrorists and extremists, and naturally the left side has been allies in defending us for a long period of time,” it quoted spokesman for the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Ali Kardi, as saying.
“We are afraid if we come out with our opinion, then the left may abandon us for going against their view, and we can’t be friendly with the conservatives because they have been bashing us for 15, 20 years every chance they get.”
According to Mr Diaz, employers should have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, hateful speech or passive-aggressive behaviour of any kind, and that this policy should be actively communicated to all staff.
“You have to have zero tolerance for rudeness or lack of respect or aggression of any sort, and then management needs to lead the way on treating people in a respectful and embracing way,” he said.
“Ant not just LGBT[I] people, but all people.”
Mr Diaz added: “Remember that being valued in the workplace is one of the elements of good mental health.”