Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced domestic violence, the following article could be potentially triggering. You can contact 1800 Respect for counselling, information and support 24/7: 1800 737 732
This article first appeared on www.brainstormproductions.edu.au
Loneliness is real and it affects people right across the country – in fact a 2016 Lifeline survey found 60% of Australians often feel lonely. While loneliness for some is related to physical distance from people they can relate to, for many it’s the fact that they’re surrounded by people but feel a lack of connection and social support. The good news is there are ways of keeping loneliness and social isolation at bay for ourselves and others in our community.
The power of conversation
Connecting with people we care about is a simple way to combat loneliness and the added bonus is, it’s good for our mental health. Strong and caring connections with friends and family also provide a vital safety net that helps us cope with life’s ups and downs. That’s why Brainstorm Productions is an official school partner with national suicide prevention charity R U OK?
Their message is simple – the acts of investing more time in the people around us and asking anyone doing it tough, “are you ok?” can make a big difference. It’s a message we’re never too young to learn.
Conversations can change lives and they need to happen every day of the year. That’s why R U OK? launched the One Million Challenge with the aim of inspiring a million conversations and connections. They’re doing this with the help of a quirky question mark character Quentin who’s travelling right across Australia in lead up to their national day of action, R U OK?Day (Thursday, 14 September 2017)
At every stop on his journey Quentin issues challenges to get people connecting and starting conversations with their loved ones - like get a cup of tea with a neighbour or send a card to your mum. Brainstorm Productions recently joined the challenge and helped Quentin reach even more Australians.
icare and R U OK? today launched a world-first study into psychological safety (1) in the workplace, which showed that frontline lower income-earning staff feel less safe and permitted to take risks at work than higher income-earning employees.
The Australian Workplace Psychological Safety Survey (2) canvassed 1,176 Australian employees and found that only 23 per cent of lower income-earning frontline employees felt their workplace was “psychologically safe” to take a risk, compared to 45 per cent of workers on significantly higher incomes.
A “psychologically safe” workplace is characterised by a climate of interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people feel comfortable being themselves to make mistakes or take risks in their work.
“This is the first time a country has ever measured psychological safety in the workplace,” said R U OK? board member and workplace mental wellness expert, Graeme Cowan.
“Google’s research of its own workforce revealed that psychological safety was the most important team norm for high-performing innovative workplaces – those norms are: Psychological safety; Dependability; Structure and clarity; Meaning and purpose; and Impact,” he said.
“While all five norms are important to team performance, psychological safety has been shown to be the most important attribute - if this attribute is strong, the other four norms are so much easier to achieve.
“If CEOs want their organisation to thrive in today’s digital economy, team psychological safety must be paramount, as well as striving for and monitoring of employee wellbeing,” Mr Cowan said.
icare CEO Vivek Bhatia said: “In a growing climate of uncertainty and increasing stress on workers, families and communities, mental health is one of the biggest societal challenges of the 21st century. One in five people in Australia will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime.
“Employee mental wellbeing must be at the top of every CEO’s agenda. Untreated mental illness costs Australian businesses $11 billion every year off their bottom line from absenteeism, lost productivity, stymied business growth and compensation claims,” he said.
“An investment in psychological wellness is an investment in now and the future.
“Employers should also recognise that this investment extends beyond their employees. We all bring our work home with us, including our state of mind.
“Mental wellbeing is not isolated to the individual – it has a flow-on effect to families, loved ones, and friends, who are at the heart of our social fabric.
“I urge all employers to ensure their people have a mentally safe environment to work in, one which respects differences, welcomes diversity and encourages employees to feel comfortable talking openly about how they’re doing,” Mr Bhatia said.
icare and R U OK? will also partner up to hold the Senior Leaders Workplace Mental Wellness Breakfast at the Westin in Sydney today with 200 CEOs and senior leaders from more than 80 organisations convening to understand and help define as a community “Why Mental Health Should be on Every CEOs’ Agenda”.
Organisations attending include: Ernst & Young, PwC Australia, Lendlease, CapGemini, CBA, Westpac, NAB, ING, AIA Insurance, EML, QBE, the Black Dog Institute, Virgin, Bayer, CoreLogic, Altius Group, BridgeClimb and the NSW Mental Health Commission.
The Australian Psychological Safety Survey is the result of a collaboration between R U OK? and Amy Edmondson, the pre-eminent global thought leader on psychological safety and Novartis Professor of Leadership & Management at the Harvard Business School. (2)
1 The concept of “psychological safety” originated from Amy Edmondson, Professor of Leadership & Management from Harvard Business School and is defined as a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.
2 Conducted by Colmar Brunton for R U OK?, the Australian Workplace Psychological Safety Survey was based on an independent online survey of 1,176 Australian full-time and part-time employees across all states and territories in March, 2017.
Media contact: Helen Han | 02. 8297 7570
Key Results of the Australian Workplace Psychological Safety Survey : Survey question:
“It is safe to take a risk at work”.
By Gender :
38 per cent of men strongly agreed or agreed that it was safe to take risks at work, which was significantly higher than the 29 per cent of women who strongly agreed or agreed.
By Income :
45 per cent of respondents on incomes of $156,000 or more a year strongly agreed or agreed, which was significantly higher than the other income groups. Those on less than $52,000 a year were significantly less likely to strongly agree or agree (23 per cent) on feeling comfortable taking risks.
By Employment status :
Employees working full-time or part-time were significantly more likely to strongly agree or agree (37 per cent and 46 per cent, respectively), compared to 25 per cent of part-time employees; taking risks.
“My work colleagues often reject others for being different”.
By age group:
Respondents aged 25-34 (Millennials) were significantly more likely to agree or strongly agree that their colleagues rejected others for being different (28 per cent), compared to between 7 per cent and 18 per cent for older groups);
Respondents aged 55-64 (Baby Boomers) were significantly more likely to disagree or strongly disagree that their work colleagues rejected differences (69 per cent), compared to an average of 58 per cent.
“It is difficult to ask my work colleagues for help”.
By age group:
Respondents aged 25-34 found it significantly more difficult to ask their work colleagues for help (24 per cent agree or strongly agree, compared to an average of 18 per cent).
Whereas respondents aged 55-64 found it significantly easier to ask for help (73 per cent disagree or strongly disagree, compared to an average of 62 per cent).
“If you make a mistake at work, it is often held against you”.
By age group:
Respondents aged 25-34 were the most concerned about mistakes being held against them (36 per cent strongly agree or agree), and respondents aged 45 and over were significantly less concerned (ranging between 12 per cent and 21 per cent agree or strongly agree.
"Working with my colleagues, my unique skills and talents are utilised".
Respondents on the lowest incomes (less than $52,000) were the least likely to strongly agree or agree with this statement (50 per cent), compared to between 64 per cent and 72 per cent for the other income groups.
Respondents with graduate degrees or higher were most likely to agree with this statement (68 per cent, compared to 59 per cent and 61 per cent for other groups).
27-year-old Khan Porter is a world-class athlete and one of Australia’s leading CrossFit champs, having competed three times at The CrossFit Games.
Known for kicking physical goals, Khan is putting his muscle behind a cause that’s close to his heart – suicide prevention. This weekend will see him compete in the highly competitive Reebok CrossFit Games 2017 Pacific Regional, wearing a bright yellow shirt in support of R U OK?
This won’t be the first time he’s spoken up about mental health and suicide prevention. In 2016, Khan posted a 25 second video of himself busting some serious moves to Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies,’ in between his CrossFit lifts. The video went viral and Khan used the platform to start a conversation on how concepts of masculinity can stop men from seeking help when they need it most.
With the best of intentions we sometimes put our foot in it when it comes to supporting a mate or loved when who might be going through a tough time. Understanding depression and anxiety or any mental health issue can be bewildering for both the person unwell and their support network.
Sometimes we don’t always say the right thing to let the person know we are there for them. But words have power and thinking twice before offering advice, an opinion or a judgment to someone who is already feeling vulnerable, is key.
We’ve put together a few common scenarios people with depression/anxiety sometimes hear and offer an alternative response. These responses are more supportive and likely to encourage your loved one or friend to open up to you. Being able to open up without feeling judged, gives relief and establishes trust — and that’s the best gift you can give someone who’s struggling.
Here are some things you shouldn’t say to someone who has depression:
1. “I read that exercising every day is the best way to beat depression/anxiety, you should join the gym and start walking 5km a day. Endorphins, you need endorphins!”
While it’s true that exercising does help lessen the symptoms of depression and anxiety, some people, when they’re in a really low place, can barely cope with getting out of bed to shower. The gap between where they’re at to this new world of up and at ‘em, can seem impossible to reach.
Instead say: “I know when I have been feeling a bit off, getting out each morning for a walk really helped me get back to a better headspace. If you ever want a walking buddy or want to try Tai Chi or something like that, I would love to join you.”
2. “You have a great life, a great family, a beautiful home, what do you have to be depressed about?”
Depression/anxiety is not a choice and this is not a supportive comment, it will only alienate the person further. Your friend/loved one is probably very aware they have a “good life.” This comment will probably just shut down the possibility of them feeling comfortable opening up about their troubles with you.
Instead say: “I can see you’re doing it tough at the moment. Do you feel like opening up about what’s happening, I have time to talk? If not now, you can call me anytime, I’m always here for you, please know that.”
3. “You just need to get out of the house, you’re cooped up here on your own and that can’t be good for you, no wonder you’re depressed!”
People who are struggling with depression or anxiety just can’t leave the house, sometimes. Facing the world when they are at their worst is just not an option for them. It just isn’t.
Instead try: “If you feel like going for a walk, even just around the block, I would love that. Have a think about it. If not today, how about tomorrow? I really need to walk too, you’d actually be helping me get more active.”
4. “You need to snap out of this, it’s not fair on the rest of your family/friends, you’re being selfish.”
Red flag to a probably exhausted bull. This is not helpful, it can feel judgmental and alienating. This is not a choice, it’s something that feels completely out of their control. Guilt and shame compound their problem.
Instead try: “ Is there anything I can do to make this time a little easier for you? Can I drive you to see your doctor or phone and make an appointment for you? How can I best support you?
5. “I was depressed for a few days once, I get it, but I just made myself get over it. You should just try and be happy.”
Being out of sorts for a few days does not equate to depression and comparing your situation to someone else’s isn’t supportive.
Instead say: “I went through a few rough days myself a couple of years ago, but I managed to get myself back on track. I know this is probably different, but I’d be happy to share what got me through it, if you think it might help.”
6. “I’m throwing a dinner party to cheer you up, it’ll just be a few close friends and family.”
Eek! With the best of intentions, you have probably seen the wide-eyed look of horror on your friend’s face in response to that well-meaning offer. Depression and anxiety are no friend to socialising. Even if the guests are people they know well. The pressure to chat and appear happy when you’re not is exhausting .
Instead say: “I would love to have you around for lunch or a cuppa one day next week, just you and me, is that something you feel like you might be able to handle at the moment?”
7. “You’re depressed because you have nothing meaningful to do in your life. You need to socialise more or join a club, just get out and about more, you need to make an effort.”
While social connectedness and feeling a part of things is definitely key to a healthier lifestyle and a sense of well-being, not everyone with depression or anxiety is capable of taking such a big step. It can be scary enough for some people when they’re feeling great, but a terrifying prospect when that person is not at their best.
Instead try: “ I was thinking about joining, (e.g.) ‘Ladies who Luncheon,’ it looks like a lot of fun and it’s only once a fortnight. I’d feel a lot better if I had someone to go with, would you consider coming with me next week if you’re feeling up to it?”
8. “I’m trying to be supportive and I know you can’t help having depression/anxiety, but you’ve been taking medication for a while now, so how come it’s not working? How long before you’ll be better?”
How long is a piece of string? The odds are your friend or loved one has been wondering the same thing. Getting better or just managing a condition, even on medication, is different for everyone. There’s no quick fix and making the person feel like they’re not getting better fast enough, will possibly make them withdraw further.
Instead say: “Have you had a chat to your doctor lately about your progress, how are you feeling about it all? I’m happy to listen if you want to get anything off your chest. This must be very frustrating for you and sometimes a good vent helps. I’ll make us a cuppa.”
9. “This mood you’re in is a choice you know? You need to pull yourself up by the boot straps and get on with things. People depend on you, you know.”
Oh, thank you for being so frank, said no one ever. A comment like this will only further compound the isolation this person is already feeling. It will It certainly not open up any opportunity for meaningful connection or conversation, which could actually be the starting point to them getting help.
Try instead: “I really can’t relate to how you’re feeling, mate. I haven’t had depression so it’s hard for me to understand what you’re going through right now. I wish I could understand it a bit better, so if you want to talk to me about it, I’ll make us a cuppa and sit with you for a while.”
Need more tips to help you talk to someone you're worried about? Visit our How to Ask page.
Rail R U OK?Day encourages rail workers to deepen their conversations with their colleagues. Because checking in with our rail workmates can help them better manage the pressures they face both on and off the job.
Wes Gordon is a pastoral carer who’s worked in the rail industry for over forty years. He understands the pressures and stresses rail workers face.
“Rail staff are involved in a whole range of stressful incidents – fatalities, injuries, passengers collapsing – but they’re well trained, focussed and handle it extremely well. On top of that they have the problems that everybody has - family problems, family illnesses, anxiety issues, depression. We have all of that and we deal with it. But these things can take their toll,” he says.
Wes believes that chatting through stuff with colleagues can help a workmate through life’s ups and downs.
“That’s why programs like R U OK? which encourage our people to ask each other, ‘Hey, are you going ok?’ are really important.
“I’ve found that phrase is one of the most powerful phrases around. It saves lives – I’ve actually seen it save people’s lives,” he says.
Throughout his time in the rail industry Wes has witnessed a number of life-changing conversations but he says there’s one moment that stands out.
“There was an incident at one of the stations, a near miss and a very traumatic incident. I sat and talked to a staff member who was very shaken. While I’m sitting and talking to him the phone in the station kept going off. He was answering the phone and each time he answered you could see him settling down more and more. What was happening was people in the system had heard about the incident and were ringing him up, going ‘How you going?’ Are you ok?’. You could actually see it working.
“I think there were about seven or eight phone calls and by the time the final phone call came through he had settled right down and he was in control. It’s a fantastic example of what that question, ‘Are you ok?’ can do.”
Wes believes we’ve all got what it takes to start a conversation with a workmate we’re worried about.
“You don’t need to be an expert to ask that question, ‘Are you ok?’ You just need to be a human being, a person who has an interest in their fellow person.
“Start by asking the question then listen. It’s very important to listen - people pick up when you’re not listening. Then help them tap in to the support that’s out there, and there’s a lot out there in the rail industry. You could suggest they go and talk to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Or you could say, ‘Let’s go and talk to your supervisor, or your friends, or your family, or your doctor.’ The next steps you suggest don’t have to be complicated.”
Wes believes that it’s important to not just have a one-off conversation with someone you’re worried but to keep checking in with them.
“Over the years, I’ve seen some really bad stuff with people badly affected and I’ve seen, the only word I can use is, miraculous recoveries, with people coming back - that’s because they’ve had all this ongoing support. So, don’t go and ask someone if they’re ok and then just walk away. That doesn’t work. Check in with them again,” he urges.
Finally, Wes reminds us that these types of conversations aren’t just for the workplace.
“We all rely on each other. We are not an island. So, it’s important when you see one of your friends, one of your workmates, one of your neighbours having problems to go up and ask them if they’re ok. It makes a big difference. It lifts people’s spirit.”
Find more tips and advice for starting a conversation with a colleague you’re worried about at ruok.org.au
With rail workers sometimes exposed to trauma on the job, finding ways to create a more supportive environment has been a priority for the rail industry. Through the Rail R U OK?Day initiative, the TrackSAFE Foundation in partnership R U OK?, have been tackling the issue by giving rail workers the tools to help deepen work place conversations and encourage colleagues to open up and support each other through tough times.
Bob Herbert AM, TrackSAFE Foundation Chairman said, “Rail R U OK?Day has helped the rail industry proactively address suicide on our networks in an attempt to reduce the number of incidents, while at the same time mitigating the trauma caused to rail employees, families and communities.”
"We strive to create healthy and resilient workplaces by empowering co-workers to support one another and continually check in, asking one simple question - "are you ok" ?
Depression, anxiety and mental trauma are very real issues impacting
rail staff and first responders - and regular, meaningful conversations can
“We’re proud to celebrate our third annual, industry-wide Rail R U OK? Day. It is an important opportunity to convince workmates that they can make a real difference to someone who is struggling by having genuine conversations.” he said.
Watch the Rail R U OK?Day video .
Rail R U OK? Day’s launch event will take place at:
Where: Main concourse Central Station, Sydney.
When: Thursday April, 20.
Time: Formalities kick off at 9am followed by a BBQ.
Who: League legend and R U OK? Ambassador Brett Finch will speak to workers.
R U OK?
Ambassador and former rugby league legend Brett Finch understands
the stresses rail workers face.
“I know about the trauma and tragedy that can happen on Australian rail networks,” he said.
“My father-in-law works on the rail and I know first
hand the life changing experiences he’s been through and the impact it has had
not only on him, but also his family.
‘’If you notice a workmate is a bit off or doesn’t seem themselves, don’t joke or make light of it, because it really could be something important you could help them open up about.”
R U OK? CEO Brendan Maher says he is proud of the successful collaboration between TrackSAFE and the suicide prevention charity.
“The R U OK? ethos has really been embraced by rail networks around Australia and more recently New Zealand,” he said.
“It’s testament to the fact that work places and rail workers have not only encouraged checking in with mates, but have whole heartedly embraced it.
“Rail workers witness some heartbreaking incidents on the job and by supporting each other everyone is better off at work and also at home.” he said.
“Rail R U OK? Day is a reminder to all rail workers to check in not just on the big day but anytime someone looks like they’re struggling.”