Occupational Health & Safety

Mental health in the workplace – insights from Beyond Blue’s Answering the Call Survey

23 May 2019, by Amy Sarcevic

A study by Beyond Blue has revealed some concerning findings in relation to mental health in the workplace, suggesting that further interventions are needed to support those affected.

Answering the call is a ground-breaking survey into the mental health and well-being of police and emergency service personnel, involving 33 police and emergency services agencies in every state and territory throughout Australia.

Commissioned and funded by Beyond Blue, with funding support from the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, the survey established, for the first time, a detailed and accurate picture of mental health in the police force and emergency services.

Workers (current and former) reported that they found their roles both meaningful and rewarding, but also stressful and demanding. Of 21,000 people surveyed, one in three police and emergency services employees experience high or very high psychological distress, compared to a national average of one in eight Australian adults.

Despite the prevalence of psychological distress, the survey revealed that mental health literacy is not where it needs to be, meaning that sufferers are unlikely to seek and receive the right support.

Employees with high or very high distress and probable PTSD (based on psychometric testing) did not self-report that they had a mental health issue in the past 12 months, suggesting poor mental health literacy among respondents.

Positively, in relation to stigma, Answering the call found that most personnel did not hold stigmatising attitudes towards their colleagues, with a very low number believing that mental health conditions are the fault of the individual experiencing them (1 percent) or that those with mental health conditions are a burden on others (2 percent). This is a compelling finding, and one that agencies should promote and celebrate to tackle stigma.

However, the study found very high rates of self-stigma, such as the amount of shame respondents had about their own mental health condition (33 percent), the amount of burden they believe it causes those around them (32 percent) and whether they were inclined to tell people about their mental health condition (61 percent).

Ahead of Informa’s Safety in Action Conference, Patrice O’Brien, Beyond Blue’s General Manager of Workplace, Partnerships and Engagement said, “Improving mental health literacy and the ability to recognise signs and symptoms in oneself promotes help-seeking and supports early intervention.

“Meanwhile, strategies to reduce stigma in police and emergency services agencies should remind personnel that their colleagues do not blame or resent them, while addressing the stigmatising attitudes that many hold about their own mental health.”

The importance of workplace culture in protecting and supporting employee mental health was a key theme that came through the research. The study found that workplaces that are supportive and inclusive, have regular discussions about occupational experiences, and effectively manage emotional demands on staff, have lower rates of PTSD and psychological distress. Poor workplace practices and culture can be equally debilitating for emergency service personnel as exposure to trauma.

These findings highlight the importance for agencies to develop, review and revise its own comprehensive workplace mental health and wellbeing strategy workplaces aimed at creating environments where mental health is considered as important as physical health.

Beyond Blue advocates an integrated approach to supporting mental health that promotes a positive workplace culture, effectively manages mental health risks at work and supports people with or without a mental health condition.

James Maskey, Beyond Blue’s Police and Emergency Services Program Engagement Manager, will present at Informa’s Safety in Action Conference – due to take place 10-11 September 2019 in Melbourne – where he will outline the findings of the Beyond Blue study and discuss how the organisation is working with agencies to translate the findings into meaningful strategies.

You may download the full agenda here.

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