Mental health.

Two simple words, when put together, can create a complex response.

Compassion, pity, fear, indifference, confusion. The reactions can be as varied as the emotions.

Mental health is in the spotlight this week during Queensland Mental Health Week (October 9-17). The focus is on starting conversations to highlight individual and community mental health and well-being.

The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.”

Held in conjunction with National Mental Health Week and World Mental Health Day (October 10), this year’s theme is Take time — for mental health.

Often shrouded in misinformation, secrecy, and even shame, mental health can be an issue many people feel uncomfortable to talk about, particularly in the workplace.

The statistics demand another story.

One in five Australians have taken time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy.

The State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia report surveyed 1,041 employees. It also found the above statistic is double among those who consider their workplace “mentally unhealthy”.

Ninety-one per cent of employees believe mental health in the workplace is important.

But only 52 percent of those employees believe their workplace is mentally healthy.

And that’s bad for business.

The Productivity Commission last year estimated mentally unhealthy workplaces cost up to $39 billion each year in lost participation and productivity.

A PwC report found businesses receive an average return on investment of $2.30 for every $1 they invest in effective workplace mental health strategies. That makes investing in mental health a win for employers and employees.

Psychologists say it’s helpful to think of mental health as one aspect of our overall health. Everyone has mental and psychical health that varies during a person’s life, oscillating between positive and healthy to severe symptoms that can impact everyday life.

While we all experience feelings of sadness, anger, or hopelessness at times, mental illness is when these feelings won’t go away, or get so strong they make it hard to function normally.

And it’s common.

–       1 in 5 Queenslanders experience a mental illness in any one year

–       1 in 2 will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives

–       1 in 7 Australians will experience depression in their lifetime

–       1 in 4 Australians will experience an anxiety condition in their lifetime

–       Suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged 15–24 (37%)

–       Every day in Australia, approximately seven men die by suicide

–      Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are nearly twice as likely to die by suicide

–       Ex-serving Australian Defence Force members are a higher risk of suicide than other Australians (males 24% and females 102%)

Psychologists warn the Covid pandemic has amplified many of these issues. Anxiety, particularly social anxiety, is one concern patients are reporting more of.

At foundU, we regularly check in with employees, encouraging all of us to think about our mental health and well-being.

“Whether we have a lived experience of mental illness or not, we need to take time to check in our mental health and each other,” said foundU Chief Operations Officer Renee Roussety.

One of the practical steps we’ve taken is to literally step out with us — slip on your trainers for a “walk and talk”. The “side-way” chat can increase comfort levels and eliminate feelings of competition, particularly in men.

Sociologists have studied differing concepts of how people organise their personal space. Women generally prefer a face-to-face position but there are many arguments around how mixing your preferred method of talking may be better for your overall communication.

“Our people are our most valuable asset,” Roussety said. “Prioritising their mental health allows them to be the best version of themselves and that’s healthy for all of us as a business and a community.”

The aim this week is to amplify the importance of taking time to engage in activities that boost our mental health and encourage help-seeking behaviours, if/when needed.

Research shows six simple actions can improve our moods, build resilience, and boost well-being.

Based on the internationally recognised Wheel of Wellbeing, regularly practicing these actions is beneficial for everyone.

  • Get healthy — being active and eating well is good for your mind as well as your body
  • Keep learning — learning new things can make you more confident as well as being fun
  • Show kindness — practising small acts of kindness, volunteering time, or simply helping a friend in need can help you feel more satisfied with life
  • Connect — spending time with other people is important to everyone’s mental well-being
  • Take notice — paying more attention to the present and the world around you helps relieve stress and enjoy the moment
  • Embrace nature — connecting with the outdoors and taking care of the planet is the best recipe for world well-being.

Mental Health Week is an opportunity to devote some time to well-being, shake off some of those taboos, and perhaps even step into some trainers.