This simple question can save a life. R U OK?
Peer support for those who need it the most
|5 minute read|
A conversation could change a life. R U OK? Day, falling on 8 September this year, is a reminder to check in with those around us.
R U OK? Day encourages people to think about their community, ask the simple question and be prepared for the answer.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing, more than two in five Australians aged 16-85 years old have experienced a mental disorder at some time in their life.
Making mental health a priority
With the Work Health and Safety Act 2020 now in full effect, Lifeline WA Chief Executive Officer Lorna MacGregor said employers were now responsible for psychological wellbeing and it was important to keep the mental health of employees front of mind.
“Aside from the legal component, there is also a moral component,” she said.
“Broadly speaking, we spend many hours with our colleagues – it is one of the communities that is an important part of our life.
“The impact management decisions have on you and the quality of your relationships with your work colleagues impacts your happiness and wellbeing and, for a lot of people, they find a great deal of support in their work community.
“We all have a moral duty to acknowledge the important role that work plays in the lives of most people and it’s great for the role to be a positive one.”
Ms MacGregor said research had been done around emotional wellbeing and productivity, with burnout and fatigue being increasingly discussed.
“The Productivity Commission has looked at the impact of mental health on organisational productivity and things like presenteeism and absenteeism,” she said.
“For organisations investing in the emotional and mental wellbeing, it has a positive impact on productivity, as well as engagement.”
Steps to self-care
Ms MacGregor said looking after your mental health was not that dissimilar to looking after your physical health.
“The key things are ensuring you are self-aware,” she said.
“Make sure you are aware of how you are feeling and have some strategies around your own self-care, as it can vary for everyone.
“Be conscious about things that bring you peace and feed your soul, like those things you need to do regularly to ensure you’re feeling well and happy but will often drop if you are busy such as exercise.
“Eat well, get enough sleep and communicate with people – they would be the key things I would recommend to everyone when it comes to looking after your mental wellbeing.
“The last thing I would recommend is that if you have an opportunity to engage in some mental health training or emotional wellbeing training, there are a lot of things you can do to support yourself and your friends a little bit better.”
The birth of the Resourceful Mind program
With a large portion of Western Australians working in the mining and resources industry, The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia (CME) Health, Safety and People Manager Laila Nowell said the health and safety of their employees, including psychosocial health was their number one priority.
Ms Nowell said CME engaged in a partnership with Lifeline WA a number of years ago to assist in tackling mental health issues within the industry.
“Part of the partnership saw CME and Lifeline WA meet with people from all levels of the mining and resources sector, which included site visits,” she said.
“It was highlighted how worksites operate as an onsite community and, within that community, there is always that person everyone seems to go to if they’re having a bad day or a tough time.
“This was really when the lightbulb went off and Lifeline WA said ‘okay, it’s great that everyone is reaching out to someone but how can we make sure that the person they are reaching out to is okay and the conversations they are having are safe?’.
“And that was the birth of Resourceful Mind.”
Minding the minders
Resourceful Mind identifies people called ‘minders’, who put themselves forward to be the go-to person for their colleagues in need of a person to talk to during tough times, and provides them with training to better navigate those conversations.
Designed by Lifeline WA and taking into account the uniqueness of the fly-in, fly-out work environment, the training has been created specifically for the mining and resources industry.
“Currently most training has been designed for a traditional 9-5 workplace with a boardroom or a training room which of course is not a fly-in fly-out environment,” Lifeline WA Chief Executive Officer Lorna MacGregor said.
“The training for Resourceful Mind is grounded in evidence-based programs we already deliver.
“We use a conversational framework called look out, listen and link up.”
Providing minders with all the tools to support those around them, the program comprises core training, development courses focusing on micro skills and bigger professional development courses.
During the pilot program in 2021, CME co-funded research to ensure Resourceful Mind was not negatively impacting the psychological health of the minders.
“It was really important to us to ensure the program was safe and, in being a peer supporter and having those conversations, those people weren’t being harmed by being part of those conversations,” Ms Nowell said.
“We engaged Edith Cowan University to conduct a research study and the findings showed there was no negative impact on the minders and the program was safe.”
Encouraging men to speak
Ms MacGregor said one of the key objectives of the Resourceful Mind program was to find a way to encourage men to seek conversations during challenging times, especially with mine sites being dominated by males.
“Having a supportive community is not only a significantly important factor in reducing mental ill-health but also in protecting against suicide,” she said.
“Men are less likely to seek help than women and we see that on our crisis line every day.
“I would estimate about 70 per cent of our callers are female, yet 75 per cent of suicides are male.
“Most of the minders are men and it is really exciting to me that we are training men to have these skills – to have a caring and supportive conversation and to encourage help seeking.
“I am really chuffed to have men actively seeking to develop their communication and emotional support skills. It’s structurally quite a change.”
R U OK?
Ms MacGregor said you didn’t need to be trained to be an important support for someone who wasn’t okay if you asked them the question on R U OK? Day, or any other day of the year.
“If you are going to ask someone if they are okay, my advice is to listen with an open ear, respond non-judgementally and with kindness, and then encourage them to get help,” she said.
“That could be to speak to a family member, go to their general practitioner or call a helpline, but help them to seek help.”
Where to from here?
AIM WA and Lifeline WA have partnered to create the Better Mental Health At Work course for managers and supervisors who want to develop their skills and knowledge around mental health at work and how to support their colleagues.