Making it easier to have (non) difficult workplace mental health conversations

Posted by | October 19, 2017 | Employers, Work tips

mental health at work

One in five New Zealanders will experience mental illness this year.   That means that right now, you or someone in your workplace is likely to be affected.

People drawn to purposeful work at not for profits are usually interested in contributing to a cause they believe in and are willing to invest in making an impact. Long work hours, going “above and beyond,” limited funds and resources, in some cases, helping others through big traumas, are significant stress factors for not for profit employees.

And when one of the places that mental health challenges might be seen (and be a causal factor) is the workplace, managers may be very reluctant to find out what’s going on.

Which is one of the reasons the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) has recently completed the Open Minds Project. Its objective: to strengthen managers’ awareness, skills and confidence (arguably the most important aspect) to have successful workplace conversations about mental health and wellbeing.

Lisa Ducat, Open Mind’s project manager, says employers, managers and teams responsible for mental health within an organisation now have a range of resources and tools at hand to open up “the conversation in the workplace.”

“Sometimes both managers and employees feel they can’t raise mental health issues,” she says. “There can be feelings of stigma and discrimination. Our resources point out the benefits of actually having such a conversation though.”

By talking about things in a safe way in a positive conversation, workplaces actually improve their productivity, lessening absence and helping all in their work and non-work lives, Lisa says.

An extensive 18-month research and development programme, finding out exactly what and how managers wish to engage in mental health discussions, preceded the launch of Open Minds. Based on “Like Mind Like Mine” research on what works in open employment of mental health service users, the goal of Open Minds was to take these findings and make them useable for workplaces.

It has been a co-design process, funded by the Health Promotion Agency, developed alongside key partners such as the Auckland Regional Public Health Service, and industry and workers focus groups, with a major contribution from Vero’s now retired,  health and wellbeing leader, Glenys Barker. Video production company Attitude Live, who specialise in disability issues were also major contributors, through the creation of engaging video resources, says Lisa.

“One surprise for me is how much workplaces and workers have told us they want and need this, how they’ve embraced the conversation,” says Lisa. “People have realised that our wellbeing isn’t just about physical health, but also mental health. We’re getting the comment from managers that this is just what they need. Open Minds may not have all the answers, and isn’t all encompassing, but it is a really good starting point, and allows them to expand their thinking into asking people how they’re feeling.”


Talking leads to understanding

Lisa says creating the resources has also been good for her own mental health and growth.

“It has been great to be part of a team where your work lines up with a sense of achievement,” she says. “I’m with a talented bunch of people, and it has been wonderful being part of a collaborative group. We’re really proud of the work we’ve done.”

Find out more about how your workplace can embrace conversations about mental health here: or by checking out the resource list below.


The Open Minds Resource List includes:




Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.