Amanda Thieba (AT): Jeremy Thomas is an author and speaker, who has overcome his own battle with depression and bipolar disorder. Jeremy has been speaking to C3’s Workplace Health Movement this morning about supporting good mental health in the workplace, and I am going to ask him a few questions about how to help employers to support their employees in the workplace with mental health.
So, Jeremy, welcome.
Jeremy Thomas (JT): Thank you very much!
AT: Thank you for speaking to us this morning.
AT: My first question to you is: why should employers care about supporting good mental health in their workplaces?
JT: Well, my answer to that is that good mental health is as important as good physical health – if not moreimportant. If people don’t have good mental health, it will affect their physical health, it will affect their whole performance at work, and affect other people in their team, at home, etc.
Clearly, that can lead to absenteeism, and a loss of money for the company, and productivity. But looking at it positively, if you do care about people’s good mental health, and make sure that they have it (or try to), you will have a happier company, and a more productive and successful company.
AT: Thank you. My second question to you is: what is the first thing that employers should do when promoting good mental health in the workplace?
JT: I think that they should lead from the top, and I think they should set an example that the management of the company acknowledge the importance of good mental health, and that perhaps several of them themselves have suffered from poor mental health, and have a culture that is open and honest and positive.
AT: I suppose disclosing mental-health issues in the workplace?
JT: Yes, and to instigate a practice and a protocol where you look after people – but you look after them in advance: prevention is better than cure. I have a friend who runs a big insurance company, and he has a policy that all people who have children, when they have sports days or prize days, it is obligatory that they take the time off – they are given the time off – to attend. That is good lateral thinking for good mental health, I think.
AT: My final question to you is: can you tell me three resources that managers could use if they want to talk to their employees about good mental health in the workplace? Any tips?
JT: I think what helps is to see that somebody is open, and receptive, and is listening. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is that possibly, for instance, I gave a warning signs poster to everyone today – of the warning signs of depression. If you had that pinned in your office, someone would see that and it breaks down and you think ‘ooh, my goodness – I understand you understand!’ So, listening skills are really important.
And I think, basically, it is being proactive and getting people in the company to join forces – maybe have a support group, maybe forming a choir. The most important thing is actually operating a mental-health ‘first aid’ system, whereby how we used to have physical first aiders (you know, ‘My god, you’ve cut your arm, come to Gladys!’ or ‘He’s fallen down the stairs, he must go to Amanda!’), we could have that in companies in every department, that there is a really sympathetic [person] – not a sponge, but someone who is skilled who is helping who can then make recommendations, and where there is a protocol in place.