Skilled up and lift­ing the stigma on men­tal ill­ness

Monthly Chronicle - - Health & Well-being -

Alan Shakir has been teased at work. He’s felt in­cred­i­bly lonely. He’s kept his OCD to him­self, fear­ing the stigma that all too of­ten ac­com­pa­nies a men­tal ill­ness.

Sadly, Alan’s story is not un­com­mon. In fact, one in five Aus­tralian work­ers is af­fected by a men­tal health con­di­tion each year. Yet, men­tal ill­ness is of­ten over­looked as a bar­rier to work­place par­tic­i­pa­tion.

But Alan found a boss who lis­tened, who helped him to see that his men­tal ill­ness was ac­tu­ally an as­set.

“In my pre­vi­ous work­place the pace was very fast and I al­ways got teased for be­ing so slow be­cause I was con­stantly try­ing to make sure I sat­is­fied my in­ter­nal crav­ing for neat­ness,” Alan ex­plains.

“Work was get­ting very dif­fi­cult be­cause I didn’t tell any­one about my ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive dis­or­der (OCD). One day my man­ager sat me down and had a chat with me. I told her ev­ery­thing. We then dis­cussed strate­gies that could help im­prove my pro­duc­tiv­ity for the busi­ness while mak­ing it a com­pa­ra­ble work en­vi­ron­ment for me”.

“My OCD means I’m very strin­gent when I’m check­ing scripts. I be­lieve this is the rea­son I make min­i­mal mis­takes,” he adds proudly.

Alan is speak­ing out about his men­tal health ex­pe­ri­ences in the work­place as an am­bas­sador for the new Men­tal Skill­ness cam­paign.

He’s hop­ing to peel away the stigma as­so­ci­ated with men­tal ill­ness so more peo­ple can em­brace their neu­ral dif­fer­ences, cel­e­brate their di­verse abil­i­ties and be em­pow­ered to show­case their unique skills at work.

“This cam­paign is im­por­tant to me be­cause it aims to take away the stigma as­so­ci­ated with men­tal ill­ness. The stigma be­ing that hav­ing a men­tal ill­ness is a neg­a­tive char­ac­ter­is­tic for some­one. I hope this cam­paign can show the op­po­site,” he says.

Work is more than a money earner; it is a crit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity to cre­ate so­cial in­clu­sion and re­search proves that so­cial con­nec­tion pro­motes good men­tal health and well­be­ing. Men­tal Skill­ness was cre­ated to foster aware­ness and help break down the bar­ri­ers to in­clu­sion that pre­vent a safe work­ing en­vi­ron­ment for peo­ple liv­ing with men­tal ill­ness.

An ini­tia­tive of The Liv­ing Well in North­ern Syd­ney part­ner­ship, Men­tal Skill­ness is funded in part by NSW Health’s Men­tal Health In­no­va­tion Fund. The NSW Govern­ment in­tro­duced the Men­tal Health In­no­va­tion Fund in 2016 to im­prove col­lab­o­ra­tion among govern­ment agen­cies and non- govern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOs) in the de­liv­ery of per­son-cen­tred care for peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness, their fam­i­lies and car­ers in NSW. The six part­ners be­hind the ini­tia­tive are: Pri­mary and Com­mu­nity Care Ser­vices (PCCS); North­ern Syd­ney Lo­cal Health District (NSLHD); Fam­ily and Com­mu­nity Ser­vices (FaCS); icare (In­sur­ance and Care for the Peo­ple of NSW); Uni­ver­sity of Tech­nol­ogy Syd­ney (UTS); and Syd­ney North Pri­mary Health Net­work (SNPHN).

In ad­di­tion to the aware­ness that shar­ing sto­ries like Alan’s can bring, the part­ner­ship is also run­ning the free busi­ness break­fast se­ries, Have a Go Hornsby - a pro­fes­sional learn­ing and de­vel­op­ment hub ded­i­cated to the topic of men­tal health for busi­ness suc­cess.

Men­tal health is rel­e­vant to us all. If work­places are con­ducive to men­tal health and well­be­ing (and, in­deed, ac­tively pro­mote it), then prob­lems may be ad­dressed be­fore they sur­face in a ma­te­rial way. By fo­cus­ing on health and not ill­ness, we are bet­ter po­si­tioned to both pre­vent and ad­dress prob­lems. And, we are bet­ter placed to cre­ate bet­ter and more suc­cess­ful busi­nesses.

The ben­e­fits of men­tally healthy work­places are many; all-round in­di­vid­ual re­silience is en­hanced, team co­he­sion is of­ten stronger, and in­di­vid­u­als per­form at a higher level when the myths of men­tal ill­ness are dis­pelled, and prac­ti­cal sup­port pro­cesses are es­tab­lished. In ad­di­tion, the fi­nan­cial health of a busi­ness ben­e­fits with a re­duc­tion in ab­sen­teeism, faster re­turn to work fol­low­ing ill­ness, a re­duc­tion in staff turnover and greater em­ployee en­gage­ment. And, as Have a Go Hornsby has ex­plored, new and greater mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties can arise for lo­cal busi­nesses through cus­tomer ser­vice mod­els and modes of de­liv­ery that are more in­clu­sive.

“We recog­nise that lo­cal busi­ness lead­ers need the con­fi­dence that comes with a good knowl­edge of the facts re­gard­ing men­tal health and in­clu­sive­ness.” says PCCS CEO, Dr. JR Baker.

“The Have a Go Hornsby busi­ness se­ries pro­vides a safe space for lead­ers to learn, talk openly, ques­tion and de­velop con­crete ways for­ward to­ward more in­clu­sive­ness - wher­ever and how­ever it suits them.”

For fur­ther in­for­ma­tion on Men­tal Skill­ness – in­clud­ing re­sources for in­di­vid­u­als and busi­nesses, up­com­ing dates and top­ics for the break­fast se­ries and how you can be a Skill­ness busi­ness – visit www.skill­ness.com.au.

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