Union Program to Help Combat Worker Mental Health Challenges

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Tuesday, September 8th, 2015
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A new training package has been successfully piloted by the Forest Products Division of the CFMEU to help delegates experiencing depression or anxiety.

The ‘Mental Health in the Workplace’ toolbox talk training package includes a 90-minute session that teaches union delegates how to recognise the signs and symptoms of a mental health condition, the relationship between the workplace and mental health and what to do if they are concerned about one of their members.

beyondblue developed the free package to address issues raised by the Australian Workers Union (AWU) such as lack of awareness of depression and anxiety, and high levels of stigma. Delegates were often confused about how to approach a worker, what their role should be in providing support, and where they could access information.

beyondblue CEO Georgie Harman said the free resources were designed to fit into the existing training that unions already provide for delegates, so they will have the additional skill and the confidence to have conversations about mental health with frontline workers.

“The toolbox kit is an easy way to equip delegates with the skills to improve workplace mental health at a grass roots level,” she said.

“With about half of the Australian population in some form of employment, the workplace is an ideal place for us to make a real difference by focussing on people who have access to and the ears of a large number of workers, such as union delegates.

“beyondblue approaches workplace mental health from all angles and is working with all parts of organisations, from CEOs to the shop floor.

“Employers must still look for changes they can implement at the highest levels of an organisation, but union delegates can now add an extra layer of information. beyondblue’s Heads Up website can help leaders and managers create a tailored Action Plan with simple actions to make their workplace more mentally healthy.”

Mental health conditions are common amongst working-age Australians, with 45 per cent of Australians aged between 16-85 years experiencing a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime.

CFMEU Forest Products spokesperson Alex Millar said beyondblue’s toolbox resource had been well received by delegates who took part in the pilot and would look to include the resources in its training programs where appropriate.

“Our members are at risk of experiencing depression and anxiety just like the rest of the working population, and the CFMEU is committed to ensuring the good mental health of its members,” he said.

“The delegates who took part in this pilot reported that they felt more competent to identify the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions and have a conversation with a worker they are worried about. We will look to include the training where appropriate as we train new delegates following this positive feedback.”

AWU National Secretary Scott McDine said the resources would be useful for delegates to reach out to workers who may be struggling in the workplace.

“We identified that our members would benefit from training and resources tailored to our union audience and look forward to reviewing this mental health training with the view to incorporating it in our union delegate training,” he/she said.

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