How addressing mental health in the workplace has a flow-on effect to our communities

Guest blog post by Andrew McMahon, VP Research, Evaluation and Innovation, I Am Here

Today’s blog post comes to us from Andrew McMahon. Andrew is I Am Here’s VP of Research, Evaluation and Innovation – based in Newcastle, Australia. He is passionate about workplace mental health and suicide prevention. When not working, he loves gardening, eating, drinking wine and reading.

I am often asked, why roll out mental health and wellbeing training at work? Why don’t you just run programmes in the community? The simple answer is – the workplace is an integral part of our community. In this modern world, many of us spend more time with our work colleagues than we do with friends and family – so it is at work where we are best placed to notice someone may be struggling.

However, the real power comes from the fact that everyone in your workplace is a mum, a dad, a friend, coach, ballet teacher, flat mate, grandparent, son, daughter or perhaps even the local mayor. So, by learning and using these skills in the workplace, we are also then able to take them into our community. Powerful isn’t it?

It took me a while to grasp this – but it was powerfully demonstrated to me after some work I did in Australia. My previous role was leading a suicide prevention charity, based in Australia, which was focussed on the mining industry. Our amazing team rolled out our programmes at a mine based in an agricultural town in Central Queensland. The mine is a long way from anywhere with the local town (about 40 km away) only having a population of a few thousand at most, scattered over a big area. The mine employs over 500 workers with some based locally and others flying in and flying out. They had embraced our programme fully.

The magic was that these miners were also the local footy coaches, they were parents, community leaders – so many of these mine workers now knew what to look out for in their fellow human beings – not only at work, but also on the sporting field or at home.

In total, over 500 miners completed the basic training and more than 30 of them went on to complete our highest level of training – with many of those living in the local community. Suddenly this remote outlying village, a town with next to no mental health services, had lots of people with the skills to support their fellow community members who may be doing it tough – and they told us that this is where they use their skills the most.

Before long, they saw a need, had the courage, confidence and skills to set up a stall on footy days, just to listen to their fellow community members and signpost them to help. As a result of this success, they were also then invited when the local community markets were held.

The outcome was a positive change in the vibe of this small country town. People started asking for help and looking out for their fellow community members even more. Small steps, started in a workplace, had a huge impact on this community.

I am immensely proud of that small town, and I know that communities all over the world can do this too.

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