Why your mental health is a community concern, according to NSW Mental Health Commissioner Catherine Lourey
“What the evidence is showing now is that everyone has a chance to really recover from their mental illness. And gone are the days where people have been incarcerated for years and years and years… Times have changed; people can be supported in ways in the community that didn’t occur previously and people can really step into managing their own recovery journey and I think that is really, really powerful.”
NSW Mental Health Commissioner Catherine Lourey, is changing the way the community perceives mental illness in the workplace. The benefits a business can gain from understanding and taking preventative action against mental health goes beyond financial.
Lourey, who who has had first hand experience in human services, public policy and public housing, says mental illness is a “Lived Experience” that affects our community and our culture. With her help, today’s businesses are recognising the adverse affects of work-related stresses and the benefits of an office environment promoting employee health and wellness.
TR: “From what I gather you have had qualifications in your work life in service planning. What are those qualifications?”
CL: “So basically I’m a planner. A town planner, but my focus and my commitment has always been around social justice. It’s always been around have communities got the right resources to be able to fully participate in their own lives…”
TR: “… This phrase, “Lived experience” … can you explain what it means and why it is important when we talk about mental health?”
CL: “Lived experience is in one sense, short hand for lived experience of a mental illness or having mental distress or challenge and also for caring for someone… Mental illness is not just around having a tough time where you actually need medical interventions or psycho-social support. It effects of all your life… You have to understand for that person to achieve their own recovery goals is around ensuring that they remain connected with their community and culture. That their family and friends are supported in order to support them. That they have stable housing, that they have access to good work and supportive work places and education. So all of these things come together not just for people with a mental illness but for all of us as well.”
TR: “What are the characteristics of a mentally healthy workplace, and I guess by contrast, what’s not?”
CL: “A mentally healthy workplace has a number of characteristics; one is where the person has a lot of self-agency around their work and their role. Which means they can make decisions about their day… It’s around having self-agency. It’s around having good leadership that allows people to inhabit their roles, but also to understand that when times are going tough for an individual, that you can have a manager or a leader who can pick up on that and support you.”
CL: “The flip side is where you have no control over your day. Where you may feel that your contributions are not recognise, that you yourself may just be seen as a cog in a large wheel so your particularly roles and expertise are not valued and that you don’t have those opportunities to have and exercise control over your mental health or wellbeing. So that can be, no you can’t have a coffee break or no you can’t go for a walk. And I think it is the little things that do make a difference. And you know it’s about managing stress. A poor workplace also has poor leadership.”
TR: “…Less than half, possibly as low as 25% of businesses are actively addressing mental health in the work place. Do you have a theory as to why a business would not want to do that? Why they would be afraid to specifically address mental health?”
CL: “If I do have a theory, I think the theory is based on the fact that business people don’t stop being people. And generally the community does have a lot of stigma and discrimination towards mental illness, that people don’t understand mental illness.”
TR: “You think that’s still there strongly?”
CL: “…Australia has really come a long way in having mental health literacy i.e. understanding what depression looks like…. When we then look at how that translates to stigmatising attitudes they are improving around say, depression and anxiety…I do think we can’t separate people from being a business person.”