Promoting positive mental health at work

Promoting positive mental health at work

October's annual Mental Health Month contributes to rising mental health awareness and reducing the stigma of mental illness, which has been boosted thanks to the events of 2020 and how we've collectively responded. At the Oranges Toolkit, we’re all about enabling change with evidence-informed practical tools, so this blog includes some insights and simple actions you can take to promote positive mental health in your workplace on World Mental Health Day or Mental Health Month or any time of year.

Why mental health matters so much

Everybody has mental health and we all manage our mental health in different ways, even senior leaders and high performers. With research suggesting that 1 in 5 people experience a mental disorder each year, everybody is affected by mental ill-health. You either have a mental health concern, or you know someone who does.

If not proactively managed, the consequences of untreated mental illness can be dire. Alarmingly, suicide is claiming the lives of close to 800,000 people around the world every year  ̶  that’s 1 person every 40 seconds[1]. Sadly, suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15-44 years. It tends to impact men the most, making up 6 out of 8 suicides each day[2].

Everyone’s mental health journey is different, and we naturally go through ups and downs in our lives. At times when we aren’t feeling the best, we should seek medical help just like we would when we have a physical illness or injury. And when we are feeling good, we must know how to maintain our wellbeing and to help those around us when they need it.

The COVID-19 pandemic is amplifying mental health concerns

Aside from the economic impact that we’re already feeling, it’s likely that we will feel the mental health impact of COVID-19 for months and years to come. The psychological impacts of the pandemic include increased worry, anxiety, uncertainty, depression, financial stress and other complications[3]. There are acute short-term implications as well, with people who have prior issues more vulnerable[4].

Some good news – mental health awareness has increased

Recently, awareness and discussion of mental health have increased globally. This is a great step towards reducing stigma and improving mental health outcomes. This year’s World Mental Health Day campaign intends to take that awareness towards action. The World Health Organisation’s campaign is ‘Move for Mental Health: Let's invest’. The WHO acknowledges that while awareness and understanding of mental health issues have been on the up (even before COVID-19), the investment in mental health prevention and support has not followed suit.

Some experts are also noticing the positive impacts of the pandemic. Amy Edmonson from Harvard Business School recently suggested that the experience of COVID-19 is contributing to greater psychological safety in organisations. She believes this may be due to the shared, external nature of the crisis prompting increased discussion and openness about mental health, emotions and stress as teams grapple with remote working and uncertainty together. If these communication behaviours are sustained beyond COVID-19, more psychologically safe workplaces will likely lead to better workplace performance. Other unexpected benefits of the pandemic such as increased time with family and greater connection to the local community may support positive mental health outcomes for some of us.

‘Let’s invest’ is about more than money

Investment in mental health can be monetary, but it can also be about investing time, attention and action at an individual and organisational level. It can mean taking concrete actions to support your mental health or the health of your family and peers who are struggling.

For employers, demonstrating leadership and investing in multifaceted wellbeing programs for staff delivers improvements to mental health as well as better business outcomes[5].  This requires well-trained senior leaders to advocate for employee wellbeing and actively manage mental health in business – key topics to be discussed by our panel of business leaders on 7th October be sure to register here).

And of course, significant change can also be driven by governmental policy change and funding allocations, or the media sharing more coverage of mental health matters and available supports.

Five things we can all do to promote positive mental health at work

We can all take a preventative approach and build positive wellbeing amongst our network of family, friends and colleagues. Here are 5 simple things you can do to support World Mental Health Day and National Mental Health Month in your workplace:

  1. Set up a 15-minute check-in conversation with a colleague – no agenda, just chat to find out how they’re doing. Talk about non-work things and pay attention. Listen without offering solutions to problems.
  2. Lead a ‘Fun Therapy’ activity at the start of an upcoming meeting. This could be a game or a conversation starter to build a connection with your peers.
  3. Do a random act of kindness for a peer or colleague to boost positivity in your workplace.
  4. Write a gratitude note or gratitude letter. This will boost their mood and yours, too.
  5. Pay attention to someone’s strengths and encourage them to do more of what they’re good at.

Start or join a mental health conversation

It’s also important to initiate and participate in learning conversations about mental health. Raise the topic of mental health with your peers. Advocate for changes in your workplace or local community. Sign up for free to join tomorrow’s panel discussion on mental health in business or book a spot at one of our interactive webinars this.

Get help when it’s needed

When it comes to taking action to address mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, it’s important to seek professional help when it's needed. There are lots of supports available. Beyond Blue offers wide-ranging support and online resources, including this guide to taking action for men and how to support someone with depression or anxiety. Lifeline offers help 24/7 and a range of fact sheets and toolkits which can help with understanding situations and knowing what to do next, especially if there’s a risk of suicide. You may also have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in your workplace that you can access.

Preventative action drives positive mental health outcomes

Sustained, proactive programs to improve employee wellbeing and maintain mental health in organisations have a positive impact on individuals, companies and communities. Forward-thinking organisations that adopt wellbeing programs like The Oranges Toolkit will ultimately change global mental health outcomes in the long term.

Make a move and 'let's invest' this World Mental Health Day and National Mental Health Month. When we build mental and emotional agility, we are collectively much better equipped to adapt to the inevitable change, complexity and adversity we face.

What action will you take to support and promote mental health?

Get in touch to let us know and explore how we can work together.


[1] World Health Organisation, World Mental Health Day Campaign, Sourced 5th October 2020

[2] Lifeline, Resources – Data and Statistics, Sourced 5th October 2020

[3] Black Dog Institute, Mental Health ramifications of COVID-19 – The Australian context, April 2020, p.2

[4] Medical News, Mental Health Problems Peak Alongside COVID-19 in Australia, 29 July 2020

[5] The Wellbeing Lab, Workplace Survey, 2018

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