Did you know that today, October 10th, is World Mental Health Day? The day itself sits within Queensland Mental Health Week, which runs from the 8th to the 14th of October this year. This week is a time for Queenslanders to band together to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and to reflect on their own mental health.

World Mental Health Day is an initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health and is a day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy. Mental Health Australia, Australia’s peak not-for-profit organisation representing the mental health sector in Australia, is facilitating the campaign domestically this year and aims to ensure the whole community recognises the role we all play in creating a mentally healthy society.

The theme this year, ‘Do You See What I See?’ aims to challenge perceptions about mental illness in Australia and encourages everyone to look at mental health in a more positive light. Leading up to the day, people were encouraged to make a ‘Mental Health Promise’ outlining how they will change their perception of mental health in a bid to reduce stigma around the topic. These promises can be found on the Promise Wall.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that 45% of Australians between the ages of 16 and 85 will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Initiatives like World Mental Health Day and Queensland Mental Health Week have an invaluable role in ensuring Australian’s look after their own mental health, as well as that of their friends, family, colleagues and those around them.

Research also shows that 1 in 5 Australians are affected by mental illness each year; this figure is far from insignificant and is a reminder of the importance of mental health not just in our personal lives, but in the workplace as well.

Tragically, in the legal sector, this figure is closer to 1 in 3, which is why there is such a heavy focus by the Queensland Law Society (QLS) on the importance of positive mental health programs. QLS themselves run the Love Law Live Life program, which supplies resources and counselling services to all those working in the Queensland legal sector – an incredible program that recognises how important this issue is.

If the desire to have happy workers wasn’t enough to encourage employers to provide positive workplaces, the impact of unhappy workers on business functions should. The direct financial impact of workplace mental health on Australian business is in the vicinity of $11 billion per year. This figure is largely due to absenteeism and reduced productivity from unwell workers still attempting to work.

Employers not only have a duty to their employees to provide safe and positive workplaces, but it’s also in their best interest to do so.
An employer’s occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations extend to any workers with mental illness and they have a duty to take appropriate steps to eliminate and minimise health and safety risks which may cause, or contribute to, the mental illness of workers in the workplace. Employers who are aware of employees with ill mental health may also give a workplace adjustment as afforded under the Anti-Discrimination Act. This could be an alteration in the amount of hours worked or the tasks required to be performed.

An employee facing mental health conditions is also protected from discrimination under Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth). This legislation protects employees with mental illness in all aspects of their employment, from recruitment through to termination. An employee has a duty to disclose their mental ill health if it impacts their ability to meet job requirements or poses a safety issue in the workplace. This might sound alarming, but open communication with your employer about your health needs can be beneficial in allowing appropriate remedies to be put into place to aid with your recovery.

If there is anything to be learnt from this year’s World Mental Health Day, it is that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of and that there are numerous organisations working to ensure that there is ample access to mental health services for all Australians.

You can make your own Mental Health Promise here.

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