Why small businesses need to be more engaged with mental health

Many small business owners are already aware of the potential costs associated with workplace health and safety, but most don’t consider the risks to their employees outside of typical workplace accidents.

Our idea of occupational health and safety generally stops at the obvious physical risks we see at our workplace – the loose cables, broken wires or large pots of boiling oil that we’ve been trained to see as threats – but with last week’s World Day for Safety and Health at Work, there was a timely reminder of another potential workplace risk: mental health.

A Swiss study recently found that while mental health disorders affect some 20 per cent of all workplaces, supervisors rarely have the training to detect problems or act soon enough.*

We often think of mental illness as being an invisible problem. Whether an employee is undiagnosed and struggling through the warning signs, or is being treated for a condition and is trying to find their normal balance, mental health issues are often internalised and many of the external warning signs may be viewed as simply poor performance.**

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health issues that we see in workplaces, but it is crucial that we can learn to differentiate between normal stress levels and those that are a sign of something larger at play.***

As a small business, your employees are the rudder that steers the whole ship. If they’re unable to perform their job, then not only will your business suffer but you may find yourself out of pocket as well.

For those business owners and managers who want to be able to continue ensuring the health and wellbeing of their employees, it helps to get to know your employees – their general moods, attitude and demeanour – so you can potentially be aware of what a mental health crisis looks like for each employee, because everybody reacts differently.

Encouraging an open and honest dialogue with your employees will also ensure they feel comfortable coming to you if they feel they are experiencing a problem so that you can work out a management plan that will offer them their proper care without affecting the running of your business.

At St John Ambulance Victoria we offer an online Mental Health Awareness training, which helps managers to identify and understand mental illness. With a focus on duty of care, crisis intervention and where to go for external support, it can help business owners and managers ensure they’ve taken every precaution to ensure the wellbeing of all their employees.

It’s not enough for us to bury our heads in the sand and avoid the serious mental health issues that plague our workforce. While nobody expects every manager to be a trained counsellor, we believe that it is important that we provide business owners with a skillset that will allow them to recognise when a colleague might not be coping. We know First Aid saves lives, and this rings true for more than just physical injuries.

Mental health isn’t just important for your employees, but for the successful running of your business in the long term.

If you want to invest in gold-standard First Aid training for your staff, St John Ambulance Victoria is a good place to start. We’re experts in the field, having trained over 878,000 people nationally in 2016. As a not for profit organisation, the surplus made from our First Aid training courses goes towards community programs, including training 200,000 Victorian school children in 2017 for free.

* https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/too-little–too-late_study-calls-for-overhaul-of-workplace-mental-health-care-/43100320

** https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/bl1270-report—tns-the-state-of-mental-health-in-australian-workplaces-hr.pdf?sfvrsn=8

*** https://ww1.cpa-apc.org/Publications/Archives/CJP/2006/february/sanderson-IR.asp

Anthony Hasphall, Training Team Manager, St John Ambulance Victoria

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