PODCAST: the mental health continuum

In Australia, it is estimated 45 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime and every day approximately eight Australians take their own lives - double the national road toll.

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Mental health impacts everyone – be it you, family, colleagues or friends. That means it also has a big impact on workplaces.

"Mental health is on a continuum. All of us move up and down that continuum all day every day.” – O’Brien

In the latest podcast from Diversity Council Australia’s The Art of Inclusion series (co-published on bluenotes), beyondblue General Manager Workplace, Partnerships and Engagement, Patrice O'Brien, explains why vulnerability from leaders may help create a more accepting society.

“Mental health is on a continuum. All of us move up and down that continuum all day every day,” O’Brien explains. “Someone can have a diagnosed mental health condition but they can [have]… periods of time where they're coping incredibly well.”  

O’Brien concedes that although beyondblue is striving for a society where people feel totally comfortable disclosing mental health conditions at work, “we aren’t there yet”.

“Many times I've heard workplaces say ‘mental health [is] going to be our focus for the next 12 months’ [but] you never hear anyone saying ‘[workplace] health and safety - we're going to do that for 12 months and then we're going to stop’.”

Diversity Council Australia CEO, Lisa Annese, has personally experienced mental health conditions: “I had a series of really devastating things happen in my life [and] I felt that flight or fight response. And for me it wasn't a fight, it was flight. I just wanted to run and run and run.”

“I was frightened that I would be judged for not being capable. I was working in a really high performance environment [and] I still feel that way to some extent,” she says.

Annese is now a strict self-care practitioner, which she says has helped her learn to cope. “I think of airline flight attendants - we have to put on our own safety oxygen mask before helping others.”

“In order for people to be their true selves at work, they need to be working in environments where there is psychological safety. I think that that starts with leadership.”

Workplace Mental Health Institute CEO Peter Diaz has also experienced apprehension about disclosing his mental health condition at work. “We do live in a society where we glorify the idea of a can do attitude. I am an independent being and I can achieve things [but] I'm also a bit of a perfectionist so I want things to be done in a certain way which was part of the problem.”

Diaz says living with bipolar disorder is an interesting diagnosis, “a bit of a rollercoaster”.

“I would crash completely to the point where I wouldn't even be able to get out of bed. I would be depressed for two or three weeks,” he says.

Diaz eventually got sick and tired of being sick and tired: “That's when I took charge and said no more.”

Although it is important to look out for your colleagues and peers, O’Brien says it’s important for people to recognise it’s not their job to diagnose someone’s mental health condition.

“People worry so much about saying the wrong thing [but] mainly what people want is just genuine care and concern. If someone doesn't seem to be coping, encourage them to go and talk to their GP.”

You can listen to the whole conversation in the podcast above.

Andrew Maxwell is host of The Art of Inclusion podcast and is Knowledge and Development Manager at Diversity Council Australia.

This podcast was originally published by the Diversity Council Australia and was co-published by bluenotes. Subscribe on your preferred player: iTunesGoogle PodcastsSpotify and Whooshkaa

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The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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