Stronger together: Mental Health Awareness during COVID-19

As we prepare for a return to work or physical workspaces with physical distancing requirements being eased, the impacts on our mental health will continue for some time. It is vital to be aware that many employees, colleagues and peers may be struggling. One of the troubling impacts of the COVID 19 epidemic on mental health is the increased risk of suicide. Raising mental health awareness is one of the tools we can each use and includes understanding the risks factors for poor mental health as well as knowing the signs.

We know the factors which protect our mental health are:

  • social support and connection
  • meaningful activity
  • maintaining a healthy lifestyle
  • rest and relaxation
  • a reliable source of income
  • and problem-solving skills.

Risk factors that can contribute to poor mental health:

  • an increase in drug and alcohol use
  • family history of mental illness
  • history of trauma
  • chronic or ongoing stress
  • loss of long-term relationship or person
  • social isolation not just physical isolation
  • financial stress
  • and poor physical health.

Signs that someone may be struggling:

  • dramatic changes in behaviour, mood or attitude
  • increased feelings of anxiety or depression
  • expressing thoughts of helplessness, hopelessness or worthlessness.

Many people find it difficult to talk about mental health with someone they are concerned about – and this is normal. It is natural for people to fear saying the wrong thing or making things worse. However, ignoring mental health issues won't make them go away. Having a conversation and expressing concern is vital.

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Managing your financial stress during COVID-19

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has had a wide-ranging impact on all of us. It is perfectly normal to worry about our financial situation, even in the best of times, as we try and provide a good life for ourselves and our loved ones. With so much uncertainty across several industries and employers, and if our partners or loved ones have lost their jobs, financially related stress may become overwhelming.

Financial worry is normal. Financial security, job security and a steady income are important basic things we require to provide for our loved ones, to feel safe and secure. Financial security supports our wellbeing, such as leisure time and activities. The loss of that security creates uncertainty and anxiety. If we are not careful to manage our thoughts and emotions, financial stress can dominate our thoughts 24/7 and impact on our health and wellbeing. The way we view our financial situation can shape our thoughts and feelings and harm relationships.

Some signs that financial stress is affecting your health and relationships include:

  • arguing with your partner or family about money
  • difficulty sleeping or relaxing
  • feeling angry or fearful
  • mood swings
  • tiredness
  • muscle pain
  • loss of appetite
  • withdrawing from interaction with others.

Financial stress can affect your health in many ways:

  • poor physical health
  • delaying accessing healthcare
  • poor mental health 
  • unhealthy coping behaviours.

Seeking help to fully understand your financial position and the options available to you is the first step in getting back in control of your finances and improving your mental and physical health. AccessEAP offers specialist Financial Coaching in addition to EAP counselling. For more information, Manager and Personal Tools can be accessed here or call 1800 818 728 to book an appointment.

You may feel isolated, but you’re not alone

It has been just over two years since AccessEAP started working with Support Act to recognise the needs of a group of workers who were previously “left out” of traditional Employee Assistance Program support. Back then, due to the incredible fundraising efforts of Support Act and it’s founders, mental health services were made readily available to the music industry. That was a great achievement but Support Act saw the needs of so many others, in creative industries, being left unmet. Next came theatre industries and now all artists and art workers across Australia.

The twelve-month expansion of this essential service has been made possible thanks to the Australian Government, through the Office of the Arts. Clive Miller, CEO, says he is thrilled that Support Act can extend access to the Helpline to the wider arts community during this challenging time.

It is with immense pride that AccessEAP assists Support Act along this journey. The Helpline is delivered in partnership with AccessEAP and is a free, confidential service available 24/7, staffed by professional clinicians familiar with issues faced by people working in music and the arts.

There are many other groups of people who provide incredible value but work outside of regular employment conditions. Volunteers, carers and association members would not usually be covered by EAPs however, in many cases, they are groups with significant needs. AccessEAP recognises that the one size fits all approach isn’t appropriate when mental health and wellbeing are in the balance. AccessEAP provides a range of other assistance programs to cater to the specific needs of these groups and just like Support Act we are always looking to expand our programs to ensure the best wellbeing outcomes for people at life and work.

The Support Act Wellbeing Helpline is now available to all arts workers and can be accessed by calling 1800 959 500 within Australia, or via email. Zoom video calls are also available. “You may feel isolated, but you’re not alone”. This short video is a great way to promote this service to those in the creative arts.

Support for teens going back to school after isolation

While many lives have been put on hold due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, some argue that certain groups have been affected by the loss of physical contact more than others. Teenage years are characterised by rapid learning, risk-taking, building relationships and establishing a sense of self. Having to spend more time than usual in the family home can cause added tension with fewer outlets for release. With many high schools around the country returning to the classroom, there is some sense of normality being restored; however, for tertiary education students, the path back to campus is still unclear. 

As parents, it is important than ever to keep the lines of communication open; We are witnessing an exponential increase in mental health issues among teens. So how can we support teens to proactively manage stress through these tumultuous times?

Good sleep

Poor sleep often accompanies stressful times. Teenagers experiencing stress might lie awake worrying at night and be too tired to function well the next day. This can set up a poor sleep pattern. The Sleep Health Foundation recommends these tips to help your child establish healthy sleeping patterns: avoid screen time an hour before bed and encourage reading or listening to relaxing music instead to help wind down; support your teen to establish and stick to a routine around bed and wake-up times; encourage them to get around 7.5 hours of sleep per night, which is the optimum amount of time for teenagers. Read more here.

Keep active

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The serious longer-term impacts of COVID-19 on mental health

As we all do our part to flatten the coronavirus curve, a concerning new curve is emerging. Reported in The Australian last week, an increase in suicide rates and a generational mental health crisis directly linked to the pandemic is being predicted by the country's top mental health experts.1 While people have been actively considering how best to manage the physical second wave of COVID-19, few organisations are putting the same thought and preparation into this ‘mental health’ second wave. Mental health has been reprioritised and is now front and centre of the national health agenda and transition strategy right now. With the estimated cost of lost productivity reported to be up to $5 billion. It is perfectly normal in a crisis for people to focus on their immediate needs, just as it is for organisations. Many organisations, and their leaders, must now shift their thinking to how best support the mental health and wellbeing of their people.

AccessEAP works with organisations to proactively build resilience and target protective factors to support people through change. Helping organisations to prepare their people to achieve the best outcomes and meet new challenges.

AccessEAP recognises that leaders need support to find the time and space to make difficult decisions and equip their workplaces for the transition to the ‘new normal’ and potential return to the physical workplace. Data from Professor Ian Hickie at Sydney University’s, Mind and Brain Centre shows that mental health will be the number one priority for leaders through COVID-19, recovery and a potential recession. “Now the most important part of the recovery is helping as many people return to work as soon as possible.” 2.

Our Clinical and Organisational Development teams work with our customers to build on what’s currently working in their people strategy and successfully harness this for the additional investment needed to target support for your people and organisation. Contact your Relationship Manager to ensure your organisation is getting the most impactful benefit from the latest COVID-19 support resources available from AccessEAP.

References:

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COVID-19: AccessEAP Healthcare Hotline

The public health challenges of COVID-19 may no longer be in the news several times a day, but our healthcare workers continue to be on the frontline of this crisis and under immense pressure. Healthcare workers need easy access to support as early as possible to ensure the best mental health outcomes. Launched last week, the AccessEAP Healthcare Hotline responds to the specific needs of our healthcare customers during the pandemic. 

How does AccessEAP's Healthcare Hotline work?

  • The dedicated, 24/7/365, toll-free Healthcare Hotline number will be recognised and answered by our client services team. 
  • Healthcare clients will be offered same day counselling appointments via telephone or video. 
  • Healthcare clients will have access to AccessEAP's most senior clinicians and psychologists with expertise in working in the healthcare sector and/or a hospital environment.

Visit the Primary Healthcare Toolkit within the Employer login area for more information or to discuss how AccessEAP can further support your organisation, please reach out to your dedicated Relationship Manager.

Covid-19 response and being prepared

The Australian government has moved ahead of the World Health Organisation to introduce the first phase of the country’s emergency response plan preempting the elevation of coronavirus to pandemic status. Prime Minister, Mr Morrison referred to the decision as “being taken in an abundance of caution”.

At AccessEAP we continue to monitor government sources for updates and reinforce the measures we can all take to look after our people. What we are doing in response is to keep our people informed and clearly communicate that while the current risk is low for Australia, being prepared for a change in circumstances helps to maintain a sense of calm. These websites provide up to date and easy to follow information:

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019 

https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/diseases/Pages/coronavirus-resources.aspx

Many of our organisations have already experienced having their people in a self-imposed work from home situation. It may be that your organisation will utilise work from home options further if required. If this is the case here are some factors to consider; feelings of connection may be strained and fear of illness and general anxiety may be increased as a result of COVID-19. Roles where travel and close contact with others is required may feel particularly impacted. There may be a greater reluctance to participate in face to face interactions, even with a counsellor. Phone, video chat and email counselling options are available and appointments can be made in exactly the same way as face to face sessions making support easy to access no matter the location.

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Coronavirus

The World Health Organisation has rated the Novel coronavirus as a world health emergency. The current risk to Australia is considered to be small. At AccessEAP we are assessing the risk to our people and will continue to monitor the situation and determine any actions we may need to take as a business. We are communicating this approach to our people so we are all aware that relevant precautions are being taken without causing undue alarm.

Ignorance and misinformation can lead to panic, fear and misunderstandings in situations such as these when personal safety is questioned. Clear and concise communication around risk mitigation based on information from official channels will assist in keeping people calm. For up to date and accurate information we are referring to The World Health Organization and NSW Health websites. These sites provide fact sheets and frequently asked questions in English and Mandarin to help individuals and organisations determine the level of risk associated with their everyday activities and interactions and modify behaviour as necessary. 

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019 https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/diseases/Pages/coronavirus-resources.aspx

We encourage respect for each other in the workplace and close adherence to the normal policies around mitigating risks to co-workers associated with infectious diseases. It is very important that anyone with symptoms seek medical advice/attention. Australia has a very good health system and the Federal government is coordinating efforts around the country to contain the virus and support isolation of potential cases. It is also important not to make assumptions, particularly around who may carry the virus, it is advisable to adopt recommended hygiene practices and act on credible information. If you have any further questions relating to how AccessEAP can assist your organisation please contact your Relationship Manager or the Manager Support Hotline. As always, your EAP is here to support your people whatever the nature of their concerns, please contact AccessEAP on 1800 818 728.

Putting things in perspective through care and purpose

Last week 15 of our people visited Centacare Industries (part of CatholicCare and also recipients of our social purpose funding) to spend a day working alongside supported workers in a sheltered environment. Overwhelmingly the response to the experience was very positive and there may be other opportunities to attend in the future.

For me spending a day out of the business of my usual routine to stop and connect with the Centacare employees was a humbling experience and reminded me to reflect on my purpose in life. Like many of us, I don’t have the answer but in my heart, it is to help others less fortunate than me and to work together to improve the wellbeing of people in our society. At Centacare Industries they are doing just that.

What is Centacare Industries? The organisation was set up to respond to the needs of parents with adult children who had outgrown the schooling environment. These young adults still wanted and deserved fulfilling work and purpose to support maturity and learning although sustaining employment in the regular workforce was not generally an option. Centacare Industries provides three daily programs for a workforce which is possibly more varied than most, all nationalities, ages and levels of ability. The programs are based around the warehouse security shredding, workshop assembly line and Life Skills learning. The supported workers also work in gardening and office cleaning services.

Over the two days our groups were able to participate in each program and work and/or learn alongside a supported employee. 

Some of the highlights of the day were:

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Support through the bushfire crisis

We are reaching out to our customers both impacted and threatened by the current, devastating bushfires across Australia. We know this will affect everyone differently, given the magnitude of these bushfires, it is likely that people in your organisations will be impacted in some way. Some employees may lose homes, animals and pets, some employees may be concerned for family and friends, some may be working in the area fighting fires and supporting those impacted. Our thoughts are with all emergency personnel who may well be exhausted but remain committed.

We would like to remind our customers that we are here to provide immediate phone support to any employees or managers who have questions or need support.

At this present time, we believe most organisations will be focusing on the immediate situation and needs. Survival and protection will be the main concern. We are able to assist with onsite support when the risks and threats have been contained. The following information may also be of assistance:

For individuals, see our tips and strategies (download pdf here).

As a manager, there are a few things you can do to support your employees (download pdf here):

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New Graduate Opportunity - Sydney based

 

  • Make a difference everyday
  • Strong team environment
  • CBD location

Due to continued growth we have an outstanding opportunity for a passionate and adaptable  person to work with us on our ambitious journey.

Your role will be to provide the first point of contact for all our clients and contribute to optimising our business reputation by ensuring the effective delivery of client services. Your key responsibilities will be client intake registration and processing, referrals to counsellors, record management, data entry, and general office duties.

Having recently graduated in Psychology or Social work your key skills will include your attention to detail and outstanding interpersonal skills. Most importantly you will enjoy working in a team environment that is driven by passion, excellence and caring. AccessEAP take the health of employees seriously and you will be working in an environment that genuinely cares about the wellbeing of all employees.

For more information call David Williams on 0414 551 795 or to apply send your resume to

It’s time to change the conversation about mental health in the workplace - a comment from Sally Kirkright - CEO AccessEAP

There has been a significant increase in the number of conversations about mentally healthy workplaces in Australia in recent weeks. This is largely due to the release of the Productivity Commission’s draft report into Mental Health. As a founding member of the EAP industry in Australia, AccessEAP welcomes the recommendation that “Psychological health and safety should be given the same importance in workplace health and safety laws as physical health and safety.” This is a significant shift in how we as employers manage our workplaces but it’s a shift we have been working towards with our customers. With an estimated cost associated with mental ill health and suicide to the Australian economy between $43 and $51 billion per year, governments will take this opportunity to change policy direction. For employers, lower economic participation and lost productivity represents approximately 23% to 33% of this cost.1

The draft report’s introduction highlights the complex nature of workplace mental health but fails to recognise the function of full service EAPs.

“There is limited evidence of what actually constitutes a ‘good’ workplace or a ‘good’ job in terms of mental health, but there are a number of recognised risk factors or stressors that are specific to the workplace that can undermine the mental health of those in the workplace.”

There are no real surprises in the draft report however AccessEAP challenge the Productivity Commission’s view on the role EAP’s have to play. There is a widely held misconception that an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is merely a counselling service. That view of an EAP is outdated. Today’s EAP industry responds to the changing nature of work and provides solutions to meet the current needs of employees and workplaces. Organisational and workforce needs are evolving to remain relevant and respond to the unprecedented levels of disruption, change in workplace demographics and expectations of employees and employers. Working with organisations, we have seen the increasing sophistication of your people and the expectation of a workplace culture to support ALL your people. In partnership with our customers we co-create people solutions tailored to unique needs. Just as with individuals, no two organisations are exactly the same. The solutions require a degree of curiosity to learn the intricacies of your organisation, teams and individuals, ensure the best possible alignment between expectations and services and deliver a return on investment.

Last week Urbis and the iCare Foundation released a research report demonstrating that for every $1 invested in mental health in the workplace, $65 in social and economic benefits can be created2. We know that it makes good business sense to include human capital management as a core strategic priority and most leaders agree that a businesses success depends upon the people within it.

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New podcast: suicide awareness in response to VIC legislation

Recent news on workplace manslaughter laws, introduced to Victorian state government earlier this month, raise difficult questions regarding the responsibilities and requirements of employers to proactively support mental health and safety in workplaces.

As reported in The Age “the laws will cover deaths caused by mental injuries, including trauma from bullying or other forms of abuse, sustained on the job as well as accidents and illnesses caused by unsafe workplaces. The new legislation will apply to all employers in public and private companies whose negligence resulted in a death of an employee, be that by providing a dangerous workplace or failing to provide appropriate mental support."

At AccessEAP, our customers already demonstrate a commitment to safeguard the mental health and wellbeing of their people. However, we believe this current proposed amendment to legislation will further define the responsibilities of employers in this area. We are developing resources to start a conversation with and between our customers to help understand the potential impact of the legislation and proactive approaches to implement in the workplace.

The first of these resources is now available in the form of a podcast on Suicide Awareness and Psychological Safety in the Workplace.

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White Ribbon Australia closes but the important work continues

Although White Ribbon Australia have made the very difficult decision to close their doors, they have advised the following, ‘For all those who are already planning for White Ribbon Day, we encourage you to continue with those plans alongside the international White Ribbon movement. Continue to raise your voice.’ 

With White Ribbon Day at the end of November and many organisations in the midst of White Ribbon Accreditation, there is a level of uncertainty with how to proceed. Here at AccessEAP, we are currently going through the accreditation process ourselves. We will continue with our accreditation and our commitment to the process as we recognise the important work that White Ribbon was trying to accomplish. Violence against women is a pressing and prevalent issue within our society and our commitment to continue with the accreditation process stands firm. 

We are a White Ribbon approved training provider and we will continue to provide Domestic and Family Violence Awareness Training. We have received positive feedback from organisations that we have supported in achieving their accreditation and raising awareness on this matter. For organisations that are considering the accreditation process or are in the process of doing so, AccessEAP encourages all organisations to continue with their commitment in addressing and raising awareness of such an important issue. 

At AccessEAP we are sensitive to the complexities that surround Domestic and Family Violence, and our aim is to continue to support you via training and organisational consultancy. At AccessEAP our mission is to create thriving workplaces and hope that you will join us in supporting increased awareness and education involving violence against women. 

If you or your organisation needs further advice please contact AccessEAP on 1800 818 728.

White Ribbon approved Domestic Violence Awareness Training

AccessEAP provides White Ribbon approved training programs and trainers to assist organisations in their commitment to support the victims of domestic violence in the workplace. This training may form part of your DV Plan or may be part of your White Ribbon accreditation process. AccessEAP supports companies in educating employees as part of creating a domestic violence action plan based around three elements; Recognise, Respond, Refer. The training includes raising awareness and understanding and challenging stereotypes.

Recognise

When a woman is experiencing domestic violence, it is likely that her patterns of behaviour will change. Managers should remain connected to their team to be able to recognise any changes. Some behaviours to look out for may include;

  • Frequently arriving to work very early or very late
  • Frequent personal phone calls that leave the employee distressed
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Not attending out of hours work functions or engaging socially with colleagues
  • Stress
  • Ill health and increased leave usage
  • Wanting to resign or relocate

Respond

If someone has taken the difficult step of sharing their experience of violence or abuse, it is vital to respond in an appropriate and supportive manner. Firstly, you should believe the person and listen without judging. Be supportive, encouraging, open and honest. There are also some practical considerations which will help make the person feel safer and more supported.

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How to boost your workplace creativity

Published in Human Resources Director  8th May, 2019.

“Encouraging creativity has a number of beneficial effects on employees that can drive positive change in workplaces, if done well.” Marcela Slepica, Clinical Director, AccessEAP, comments on scribbling as just one way that creativity can help boost workplace performance.

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Financial Health Check and Tools

This helpful website, from ASIC and the Australian Government, provides calculators and tips to help you make better financial decisions. Free and impartial financial guidance and tools are available to download and use to make the path to better financial control easier. Click on the image below to watch a short "How To" video. If you would like to explore some other free and paid options, our Financial Coaching partner, IMFG suggest the following: Pocketbook, Moneysoft and  Sort Your Money Out.

Are you struggling to reduce your credit card debt? Are you sick of never being able to build up your savings enough to go on that trip you dream of or buy the home you really want?

Click here to get started. This section of the website aims to get you in control of your money to help you achieve your goals. The following topics are covered:

  • Banking
  • Budgeting
  • Donating and crowdfunding
  • Get your money on track
  • Income tax
  • Managing debts
  • Saving

  

 

Financial stress - taking positive steps

It may not be surprising that a recent HR study found 80% of the top five health concerns for employees are mental health related, 41% admit to being distracted at work because of financial worries (presenteeism), 31% of employees say they have taken unexpected time off to deal with a financial issues (absenteeism).1 The 2018 Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) report showed 18.5 per cent of consumers were overwhelmed by their credit card debt load with outstanding balances now totalling $45 billion.2 We learn to live with underlying stress around our finances but these statistics show that the impact on both life and work can be significant. What can we do individually and as employers to take positive financial steps without becoming overwhelmed?

Resilience is the ability to recover and bounce back from adversity and life’s challenges. When applied to finances it is the ability to withstand external pressures during times of financial stress. Employees must understand that these external pressures are often outside their control and in order to be resilient it means taking responsibility and having a plan in place to feel confident about their financial standing. 

Employers can play a role in helping their employees cope with financial related stress by recognising the impact it can have on individuals as they move through different life stages. It is important to recognise that there are many varied reasons for financial stress. For example, our ageing workforce is facing many challenges, including their fear of entering retirement, paying for their children’s higher education and moving their parents into nursing homes. These life events can be both mentally and physically draining as they involve the security and happiness of the people we care most about. On the other hand, millennials are facing economic instability, crushing student debt, stagnant wages and looming uncertainty about the future. Employers can assist by providing information around financial literacy as many people struggle to understand their finances and are unsure of ways to seek information. Financial knowledge and understanding is often the first very important step in this process.

How individual employees handle financial stress varies greatly. Breaking down and understanding the underlying issues can be the key to helping employees become more resilient. Here are some basic tips on reducing finance-related stress:

  1. Learn to budget

Creating a budget gives you clarity and a tangible place to start in terms of understanding where your money is going and how you can reduce spending. If your financial situation is causing you stress, it’s vital to create a budget. Record all income and expenses. Start by being critical of what you are spending and cut down on any unessential items if possible. See the article in this month’s newsletter for budgeting tools.

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Providing support, reassurance and caring

This month’s newsletter theme focuses on stress and how to manage it. However, in light of recent tragic events in Christchurch, my attention is lamentably drawn to how we manage stress and grief relating to events far beyond our control.

On behalf of everyone here at AccessEAP, I would like to extend our sympathies to everyone affected by the tragic events that took place in Christchurch on Friday, 15th March. 

Later that Friday afternoon, when the enormity of what was happening in Christchurch became evident, my team went to work establishing what was happening on the ground and getting support to our customers as soon as possible/practical (due to lockdown). Our aim was to remind our customer’s that we are here to support their workplace wellbeing every day but especially when devastating events such as this challenge all involved. We were able to provide an outline of what would be happening over the next few days and also provide guidance on how to support employees initially and over time.

The messages are becoming more familiar to us all as we partner with our customers through drought, floods and bushfires as well as man-made traumatic events. Everyone processes trauma differently and even if we consider that we know each other well there are still events that will trigger unexpected responses. The guidelines we provide are intended to give room for all such responses. Within the AccessEAP team, we have New Zealander's and those with very strong ties with New Zealand and particularly Christchurch, a city that has had more than its fair share of adversity in the last few years. Their grief and sadness is very real and they are being supported now and will continue to be – there isn’t an expiry or end date to all this – it does, however, get better. What we are looking to do is to create the environment to proactively support employees and encourage them to process and work through the trauma to aid in recovery.

Often people will not want to speak to a counsellor in the initial days or weeks as they support each other. It is in the longer term when people need support from a counsellor or their Employee Assistance Program. Here are a few messages I would like to recap from our recent communications:

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Psychologist/Social Worker - Sydney based

 

- Intake/Triage focus

- Apply and Further Develop your Skills

- Make a Difference Everyday

At AccessEAP our mission is to create thriving workplaces. We partner with each customer to promote, positive organisational behaviour, enhance employee well-being, improve workplace productivity  and effectively manage the mental health of every employee. As an Australian owned not for profit Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) provider, our emphasis is on understanding the unique needs of our customers and tailoring our services to support and prevent mental health issues in the workplace. Due to continued growth we are expanding the clinical services team and seeking  a passionate and committed professional  to help achieve our goals and continue our ambitious journey.

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