Australia is currently experiencing a “second wave” of Covid-19-related mental health crises, a prominent mental health expert has warned, with experts now calling on Australians to check in on themselves and others.
Former Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry this week said Australia faces a “second curve of mental ill-health and suicide".
Workplace mental health group, the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance is now calling on Australian workers to check on each other.
“We know that people thrive in workplaces where they feel safe and supported," said Alliance chair Lucy Brogden AM.
"Investing in mental health can make your workplace healthier, safer and more productive."
The burnout risk
According to SEEK research, 72 per cent of Australians believe workplace factors have hurt their mental health, and 55 per cent of workers feel they need to take a mental health day but haven’t yet taken the time.
Psychologist Sabina Read said mental health risks at work need to be treated in the same way as physical safety risks, and if workers are feeling mentally unwell, they need to address it.
“The reality is that we need to attend to our mental health every day,” she said.
“As parents, we can’t ignore our children 50 weeks of the year, then hope a trip to Disneyland will create a loving relationship. Likewise, our mental health requires regular attention to keep us feeling motivated, productive and able to cope with the demands of life.”
However, SEEK research found that a quarter of Australians have lied about taking a day off to care for their mental health – despite the majority (83 per cent) believing mental health days were acceptable.
While there may be reluctance to taking a mental health day, Read said it’s important to note that taking a day off simply shows that a worker is being proactive with their mental health.
Five signs you need to take a day
Read said these are the five emotional, physical, cognitive and behavioural signs that it’s “time to refill the tank”.
Negative thinking, or personalising others’ negativity, feedback or comments;
Feeling short-tempered, easily frustrated and intolerant, flat or stressed;
Feeling socially withdrawn;
Feeling physically ill, including headaches, skin conditions, gastro- and gut-related issues and a weaker immune systems; and
Poorer sleep quality, either through waking through the night or difficulty falling asleep.
However, Read added that taking one mental health day won’t fix more complex mental health challenges or systemic workplace problems.
“One day away from work can help to create perspective and re-set,” she said.
“However, ongoing strategies are needed to ensure a more long-term and sustainable sense of wellbeing.”
How to ask for a mental health day
The World Health Organisation has recognised burnout as an official workplace syndrome, but asking for a mental health day for the first time can be tricky.
However, it doesn’t need to be, HR expert and founder of Corporate Dojo Karen Gately told Yahoo Finance in 2019.
She said the first thing to remember is that you don’t actually need to tell your boss it’s about your mental health if you don’t want to. You can just take a sick day.
In saying that, she said it’s good to speak up if you’re struggling.
She said workers can start the conversation by saying: “Look, I'd have to have a conversation with you about where I'm at. I'm really keen to tap into your support right now, I'm finding things tough.”
Then, explain that there’s a lot going on in your life that’s stressful and you need time to regroup.
“Today I'm especially not in a great head space. I’m finding it difficult to focus. I'm feeling quite emotional and upset. And I'm asking for your support, to allow me to create some space here and take a day off, and get my head to where I want it to be, where I need it to be.”
Read added that there’s no need to go into the specific mental health challenges you’re facing if they aren’t impacting your day.
And it’s in businesses’ best interests to be receptive.
“Mental illness is associated with higher levels of presenteeism (when you're not well at work and are not as productive), absenteeism, high staff turnover, and reduced work performance and productivity,” Read said.
Feeling worried or struggling to cope during the coronavirus pandemic? Visit coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au or speak with trained counsellors on 1800 512 348.
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