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Opening minds in Kiwi workplaces

Lisa Ducat says the coolest part of her job is knowing her work helps address issues of social injustice.

“I’m satisfied when the work I’m doing makes a difference in the world, and does good,” she says.

That’s why the Mental Health Foundation health promoter is enjoying leading a Like Minds, Like Mine project called Open Minds.

The project is a practical application of the 2015 What Works research and aims to reduce discrimination and increase social inclusion by providing managers with the tools they need to have positive conversations about mental health in the workplace.

“Overall, work is very good for your mental health. The routine and order as well as the need to participate and have a structure to your day, allows you to get out of your own head and stops you from becoming too introspective,” Lisa says.

In partnership with the Auckland Regional Public Health Service and the Attitude Group, Lisa asked people from a wide variety of businesses and roles what they wanted to see; what practical things would work for employers/employees; what the barriers are and what works to keep people employed.

Boosting managers' confidence to have important conversations

Lisa decided it was important to focus on what she could achieve with this project – which led to a decision that the aim should be to increase managers’ confidence in talking about mental health.

“People we’ve liaised with are really excited,” she says. “There is no doubt this work is wanted and needed. People do want to have these conversations – it’s just how do they have these important discussions where people can open up and be vulnerable without being judged.”

Launching in early 2017, the finished project includes a series of awareness raising videos, coupled with a set of online resources including: promotional posters, tip cards, factsheets and FAQs.

“We want people to talk about mental health, not as a deficit, but in a way that allows everyone to do their best. Starting the conversation at the mental health end of the spectrum is more inclusive and gets people thinking in the right way from the start. 

Making work, work, benefits everyone

Lisa says it’s been a joy to meet with the individuals, businesses, and focus groups that contributed to the project.

“I’ve had lovely conversations about people’s experiences – us crazies are quite fun! People are amazing and passionate about mental health. Their willingness to support and do this has been amazing.”

She confirms there are still stigmatising ideas out there creating discrimination, but the videos and electronic resources should take some of those barriers and give employers ways to resolve and overcome them.

“It’s about workplaces realising that we all have to manage our mental health, irrespective of the extent of our experiences,” she explains.

Managing a mental illness means that an individual develops skills and capabilities that benefit the wider workplace, and workplaces that support the whole person and treat them well have employees that will give more back to their employers.

“Often the perceived barriers to supporting someone with a mental health problem are not real issues; they can be responded to with the same accommodations that employers offer to employees with physical illnesses,” Lisa says. 

“It’s hugely satisfying to know that people really want this to work.”

(Open Minds videos and electronic resources are produced by the Mental Health Foundation in collaboration with the Attitude Group and on behalf of the Like Minds, Like Mine programme.)