Mind People at Work Digest - Mar-Apr 2017

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Here is the second bi-monthly digest of of articles that I have picked out of my news feed containing stories, ideas and information for people who are as passionate about workplace mental health as I am. I regularly share articles on the community Facebook page Mind People at Work and via LinkedIn, but hopefully this digest will allow you to quickly scan for articles that are of interest to you. The main topics that emerged over the last two months are why mental health at work matters, men's mental health and preventing male suicide.

Mental Health at Work Matters

The first article that caught my eye in March was by Australia's Mental Health Commissioner, Lucy Brogden (a banker, organisational psychologist and a person with a carer's lived experience of mental health issues), entitled Why A Mentally Healthy Workplace Matters. She presented the business case for why everyone should care about workplace mental health, although it amazes me that people in her position still have to convince business owners and managers that mental health should matter to them as well as their employees. Ms Brogden recalls,

“Too often I get to workplaces and they’ll say to me, ‘We give them free yoga. We have fruit in the kitchen. They’re still not happy’.”

To me, this illustrates how few organisations realise they should examine their workplace design and culture, which she points out is at the heart of addressing mental health concerns. If you want to read more about my thoughts on this matter, see Mental Health - the intersection of People, Work Design and Workplace.

As a workplace mental health advocate, workplace bullying is by far the number one issue people have messaged me about. As a result of this, I wrote the article Workplace Bullying Matters - In your Own Words, which references several other articles on this topic. Too often all we read about workplace bullying is the outcomes of litigation and lives destroyed. At least the LinkedIn article Reflections on 20 Years of Treating Workplace Bullying, from Pat Ferris, a Canadian psychologist, is one of hope - to get help early and work towards recovery. 

The transcript below is an example, posted by Ross Beckley (former Emergency Services responder) of how devastating an untreated workplace mental health injury that resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be for individuals and families.

He commented about the stress of the Australian Workers Compensation System on LinkedIn:

"A lot of people simply don't understand how hard the Workers Compensation System is here in Australia. I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2009 and eventually Medically Discharged from the Fire Brigade due to this injury in 2014. This is a STRESS RELATED Mental Health Injury and the complex additional stress you are placed under by your employer and Insurance Company representatives plays a huge contributing factor to your original injury. Without the love and support of a partner (such as I fortunately have) I fully understand why some people sadly and simply give up.
I ask that those who are in the capacity to implement change in the Workers Compensation System and the supposed Helping Profession....Understand that their actions DO AFFECT people who are already suffering a debilitating and demoralising injury."

Ross has transformed his experience into a force for good, starting 'Behind the Seen'. He messaged me saying:

"We have been flat out since starting BEHIND THE SEEN and have travelled all over Australia delivering sessions to first responders. Our research partnership with The Black Dog Institute has been extremely rewarding and we have conducted research sessions with WA Crews working also closely with the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES)."

This is a great segway into the other topic that dominated my reading - men's mental health.

Men's Mental Health

Without intending to, I came across a stream of articles these last two months about men's mental health. It all started after creating my own visual and word compositions called When Everyone Wants a Piece of Me, based on my personal experience, that express the emotional experience of (dis)stress at work. We all wear masks at work, and men in particular, are prone to bottling up their emotions, including fear, frustration, anger and despair. The article ends with some personal advice on what you might do to start addressing this.

A few days later, I read a LinkedIn article entitled When Good Pilots Go Bad - Mental Health in the Cockpit, by Tim Davies, a UK Air Force pilot, who spoke honestly about his lived experience of depression in a considered and comprehensive way. His experience is just as relevant to people who are not from the defence forces. We need more men like him speaking their truth in order to de-stigmatise the whole issue of talking about mental distress in the workplace and stop the chronic prevalence of suicide.

"Imagine that there's an illness in the UK that the government doesn't fully understand....When someone dies of it, the news doesn't normally report it. In fact, nobody really talks about it and that only makes the problem worse."

After this, I spotted a great article about how to prevent suicide in one of the most vulnerable cohorts - men aged 35-64. Why are so many middle aged men killing themselves? by the Director of the Suicide Prevention Center in the USA, draws an analogy with how we used not to talk about cancer, but now that we do, it has changed the conversation to one of hope, health and resilience. It's so important that we keep talking about suicide and how to prevent it. The article is based on a report by the Center (link embedded in the article). 

The next article I came across, was Men's Self-Reliance Linked to Risk of Self Harm, which discussed research from the University of Melbourne showing there is a strong link in men between being self-reliant, i.e., not asking for help even if they're struggling, and thoughts of self-harm, which translates into 18.5 men in every 100,000 taking their own lives in Australia.

Taking action to improve your own health is the more 'manly' thing to do and that is something that Prince Harry stressed in his candid interviews with the press in mid April (see 'I sought counselling'). He described being close to a breakdown on many occasions and the struggle he had to bring feelings of aggression related to grief and loss under control. UK charities have seen an upsurge in the number of people contacting them since the interview.

"I sought counselling after 20 years of not thinking about the death of my mother, Diana, and two years of total chaos in my life."

Perhaps my favourite example of a man telling his story these last two months though is a wonderfully honest account of what it takes to recover from a mental health issue in a profession that stigmatises such issues more than most - the medical profession. In Breaking the Stigma - A Physician's Perspective on Self Care and Recovery, Dr Alan Hill says of himself and the medical system: 

"I am a human being, a husband, a father, a pediatric palliative care physician, and an associate residency director. I have a history of depression and suicidal ideation and am a recovering alcoholic."
"In the past year, two of my colleagues have died from suicide after struggling with mental health conditions. On my own recovery journey, I have often felt branded, tarnished, and broken in a system that still embroiders a scarlet letter on the chest of anyone with a mental health condition."

Dr Hill's article is primarily about recovery: he succinctly shares his 6 lessons and explains how self care and recovery has made him a better physician. It has been refreshing to see men telling their stories of dealing with mental health issues, which I think helps to break the stigma around speaking up and seeking help. 

Preventing Male Suicide

'And now for something completely different', you might say. Being on a roll with the topic of men's mental health, here is where humour and mental health meet - with Man Therapy, born in Colorado, USA, as a campaign to reduce rates of male suicide; it then went global due to its success. FInd out about Man Therapy's humble beginnings in 'Dr Rich Mahogany's' short (3 min) video. Dr Rich now has his own website: http://mantherapy.org and a host of other videos on You Tube.

'Dr Brian Ironwood' is 'Dr Rich Mahogany's' Australian cousin, who was helped by beyondblue to publish his own manly videos on You Tube and establish his own website: https://www.mantherapy.org.au.  Dr Brian then invited the colourful character 'Davo' to talk to the Aussie blokes who are not your typical 9-5 office workers. In Dr Brian's own words:

"Well men, it's time to pick up your game and grab the bull by the horns."

Suicide prevention is nevertheless a serious business; here in Australia we lose 8-10 people a day - the majority are men and yet this is rarely spoken about or reported. If you need help immediately and don't have someone you know to turn to, please ring one of these numbers, where people who also care about you will listen, advise and respond - all conversations are confidential and free (apart from any phone charges):

Discussion Forum

If you want to share your responses or thoughts to any of these articles, leave a comment below, contact me, or head to the community Facebook page Mind People at Work to read and share more.

Other Resources