10 September is R U OK?Day. The theme in 2020 is helping people to know what to say after R U OK? and how you can continue a conversation that could change a life.

During 2020 we have individually and collectively been dealing with a lot of change and stressors.  It is now more important than ever to look out for people around us who are not coping or feeling isolated.

This year’s key message of ‘There’s more to say after RU OK?’ is about providing people confidence in how to support someone in your world who might be struggling with life’s ups and downs.

Too often people are reluctant to say something, as they don’t know what to say when someone says they’re not OK.

This message is something a South Australian business that SafeWork SA worked with, wish they had realised sooner.

Positive learnings from tragedy

In tragic circumstances a young man suicided. His death left the workplace, management and his co-workers troubled and distressed, ruminating on whether something more could have been done to prevent this occurrence.

The Managing Director later said he never wanted to go to a colleague’s funeral under those circumstances again.

Following ongoing discussions between the business’ Health and Safety manager and a SafeWork SA inspector, the idea of running mental health first aid training was proposed to the executive.

With full support from executive, training was initially completed for approximately 15% of managers and supervisors.

In the weeks following the training, a supervisor observed an employee who was acting uncharacteristically and was brought to the attention of the Health and Safety Manager.  The employee was struggling and did not want to talk or disclose on the issue.

Using the knowledge gained through the Mental Health First Aid training, the Health and Safety manager was able to ask appropriate questions to ask if the employee was having suicidal thoughts and subsequently knew how to respond.

The Health and Safety manager knew to put measures in place, including getting the employee to enter into a verbal contract to not do any self-harm and to immediately go to see a doctor.

That night the employee admitted themselves to hospital to receive medical assistance.

The employee returned to work when ready and received ongoing counselling.

Making mental health part of every day

Following the success of the initial training, the Mental Health First Aid training has now been completed by all managers within the business.

The importance of mental health in the workplace is valued and culture change is being led from the top around mental health with all employees encouraged to talk more openly.

The Managing Director said that “As an organisation, we recognise the importance of mental health on business performance. Likewise we need to be accepting of employees battling this illness when they return to work”.

“We have worked toward building a positive workplace where our people feel supported and where mental health has the same amount of importance as physical health.”

Mental health and wellbeing at work

Mental health is as important as your physical health and safety said Martyn Campbell, Executive Director at SafeWork SA.

“Sadly, at any given time, approximately 1 in 5 Australian workers is likely to be experiencing a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. This is estimated to cost Australian workplaces $10.9 billion per year in absenteeism, presenteeism and compensation claims”.

“R U OK?Day is also World Suicide Prevention Day. More than 3,000 people die from suicide every year.

Taking a moment to reach out to someone in your community including family members, friends, work colleagues, can change the course in another’s life”, said Mr Campbell.

SafeWork SA encourage all businesses to ensure the psychological health of workers is managed in the same way that their physical health must be taken care of.

There are a number of resources available on our website for businesses, and can provide free workplace advisory service about mental health at work.