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What does it mean to Detect Illness?

The Detect Illness building block increases the capability of leaders and employees to identify, act on, and monitor mental health issues in the workplace.

Empowering leaders and employees with knowledge about mental health enables them to look out for, assist, and guide colleagues experiencing mental illness towards accessing help. In turn, possessing knowledge about mental health conditions and resources enables leaders and employees to monitor their own well-being and access appropriate resources in a timely manner.

Key strategies

Research shows us there are two main areas workplaces can act on to have a strong detecting illness focus: 1-3

  • Build capacity to monitor and identify illness; and
  • Create HR systems for monitoring and detection.

Fact

Early intervention (specifically early identification and facilitating access to quality mental health care) is associated with a 492% return on investment as calculated by comparing early intervention and treatment costs with subsequent reduction in absenteeism and improvement in work.4

Why is it important to Detect Illness?

Early detection and treatment of mental health issues has the potential to minimise harm to an employee and reduce the length of any absence from work.

Research shows that people who can detect changes in mental health are more likely to promote mental health resources to others, and also seek help sooner.6 However, a key reason why employees with mental health concerns do not seek assistance and support is the perception that their leader does not possess the knowledge or skills to offer appropriate, non-judgemental support.

30% of Australian leaders report that they do not address mental health issues in their workplace due to a lack of understanding of, and training in, supporting employees experiencing mental health issues. 7

When a leader develops the knowledge, skills, and abilities to detect mental illness, the benefits to their organisation are substantial. Research highlights employees with leaders that have completed mental health training are more likely to seek out and use available mental health resources than employees with leaders that have not. 8 In addition,  leaders who receive mental health training share more information with their workplace about mental health and mental health resources. They also report being more supportive of other employees’ mental health issues, have decreased stigmatising attitudes towards mental health, actively encourage employees to use workplace mental health resources, and have increased insight into their own mental health. 9,10

Fact

Anxiety and depression can be as debilitating as a serious physical illness, yet less than half of the people experiencing these conditions seek help.11

Research-backed strategies to Detect Illness in your workplace

To effectively detect illness, organisations should build the capability of leaders and employees to identify, act on, and monitor mental health issues in the workplace.

Build capacity to monitor and identify illness

Research shows that leaders are often in the best position to detect an employee experiencing mental illness within their team.12 As such, it is important that leaders are educated with regards to understanding the signs and symptoms of mental illness. Training leaders to understand, appreciate and detect mental health issues helps to lay the foundations for a supportive workplace culture.13

Research shows that leaders who received three hours of mental health training (including both information and role playing) share more mental health information and resources than leaders who do not receive any training.14

Recent Australian research identified the following as key components of mental health training for leaders:15

  • Be able to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health problems;
  • Know/have strategies to support and manage employees with depression and anxiety;
  • Understand the role of leaders in promoting and supporting good mental health;
  • Understand the impact of organisational culture on mental health; and
  • Know/have strategies for managing mental health and building resilience.

Ideally, selecting a mental health training program should be done in consultation with leader/s to ensure their learning needs and styles are considered and the most appropriate program is selected.

After leaders and managers have been educated about mental health conditions and developed appropriate skills to address mental health issues in the workplace, the focus should expand to all employees. Currently, only 52% of Australian employees believe they have the knowledge and ability to advise a colleague on appropriate support options for mental health issues.16 This statistic can be greatly improved by providing mental health training to employees.

All employees will benefit from receiving mental health training to equip them with the knowledge to recognise changes in the mental health of themselves and their colleagues. In fact, Australian research has found significant improvements in the detection and treatment of mental health conditions when employees receive mental health training, compared to when they do not.17

The key outcomes for effective employee mental health training programs are:

  • Increase employees’ understanding of mental health;
  • Employees can recognise signs and symptoms of common mental health conditions; and
  • Employees can develop skills to assist colleagues experiencing mental health issues.

Selecting a mental health training program should be done in consultation with employees, to ensure learning needs and styles are considered and the most appropriate program is selected.

Resource

For information on how to select an appropriate leader mental health educational training program and provider, please see our guide in the resource section.

Resource

For information on employee mental health educational training programs and providers, please see our guide in the resource section.

Create HR systems for monitoring and detection

Creating HR systems for monitoring and detecting mental ill-health is essential to ensure that people with disabilities or mental illness can work safely and productively. Mental ill-health concerns are directly within the view of HR professionals, who, due to the multi-functional nature of HR, can engage at multiple levels and assist in providing support to those with mental illness throughout their careers.18

Traditionally, employers and HR professionals want to respect employee privacy and refrain from asking about mental health conditions, creating a cycle of ignorance that prevents organisations from addressing workplace-related stressors which may be impacting employee mental health.19

Instead, employers can collect confidential and anonymised data on employee mental health from their EAP programs or other mental health systems regarding how many employees are engaging with those systems, the extent of their utilisation, and identify workplace factors contributing to mental illness. These findings can be used to improve work design that may be exacerbating mental ill-health.

The following strategies are designed to assist workplaces with monitoring the mental health of their employees:

  • Provide annual ‘refresher’ mental health training courses;
  • Role-model starting a conversation with an employee you are concerned about or seeking help if you have concerns yourself;
  • Train mental health first aid officers;
  • Ensure leadership team reports contain measures of employee well-being and are regularly reviewed and discussed;
  • Ensure Human Resources and Work Health and Safety functions monitor mental health and well-being trends; and
  • Ensure mental health is a regular topic at leadership and employee meetings.

Resource

For information on monitoring mental health strategies and programs, please see our guide in the resource section.

References

  1. Gayed, A., Milligan-Saville, J. S., Nicholas, J., Bryan, B. T., LaMontagne, A. D., Milner, A., … & Glozier, N. (2018). Effectiveness of training workplace managers to understand and support the mental health needs of employees: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 75(6), 462-470.
  2. Bovopoulos, N., Jorm, A. F., Bond, K. S., LaMontagne, A. D., Reavley, N. J., Kelly, C. M., … & Martin, A. (2016). Providing mental health first aid in the workplace: a Delphi consensus study. BMC psychology, 4(1), 41.
  3. Lagerveld, S. E., Bültmann, U., Franche, R. L., Van Dijk, F. J. H., Vlasveld, M. C., Van der Feltz-Cornelis, C. M., … & Nieuwenhuijsen, K. (2010). Factors associated with work participation and work functioning in depressed workers: a systematic review. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 20(3), 275-292.
  4. Australian government : Australian Public Service Commission (Working together: Promoting mental health and well-being at work. Retrieved from https://www.comcare.gov.au/promoting/Creating_mentally_healthy_workplaces/mental_health_and_well-being

  5. Kitchener, B. A., & Jorm, A. F. (2004). Mental health first aid training in a workplace setting: a randomized controlled trial [ISRCTN13249129]. BMC psychiatry, 4(1), 23.
  6. Lagerveld, S. E., Bültmann, U., Franche, R. L., Van Dijk, F. J. H., Vlasveld, M. C., Van der Feltz-Cornelis, C. M., … & Nieuwenhuijsen, K. (2010). Factors associated with work participation and work functioning in depressed workers: a systematic review. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 20(3), 275-292.
  7. Oakie, T., Smith, N. A., Dimoff, J. K., & Kelloway, E. K. (2018). Coworker health awareness training: An evaluation. Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research, 23(4). 
  8. Dimoff, J. K., & Kelloway, E. K. (2019). With a little help from my boss: The impact of workplace mental health training on leader behaviors and employee resource utilization. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 24(1), 4-19.
  9. Kitchener, B. A., & Jorm, A. F. (2004). Mental health first aid training in a workplace setting: a randomized controlled trial [ISRCTN13249129]. BMC psychiatry, 4(1), 23.
  10. Dimoff, J. K., Kelloway, E. K., & Burnstein, M. D. (2016). Mental health awareness training (MHAT): The development and evaluation of an intervention for workplace leaders. International Journal of Stress Management, 23(2), 167-187.
  11. Ellis, A. M., Casey, T. W., & Krauss, A. D. (2017). Setting the foundation for well-being: Evaluation of a supervisor-focused mental health training. Occupational Health Science, 1(1-2), 67-88.
  12. Dimoff, J. K., & Kelloway, E. K. (2019). With a little help from my boss: The impact of workplace mental health training on leader behaviors and employee resource utilization. Journal of Occupational Health Pychology,24(1), 4-19.
  13. Shann, C., Martin, A., & Chester, A. (2014). Improving workplace mental health: a training needs analysis to inform beyondblue’s online resource for leaders. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 52(3), 298-315.
  14. TNS. (2014). State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia. Melbourne: beyondblue.
  15. Kitchener, B. A., & Jorm, A. F. (2004). Mental health first aid training in a workplace setting: a randomized controlled trial [ISRCTN13249129]. BMC psychiatry, 4(1), 23.
  16. Hennekam, S., Follmer, K., & Beatty, J. (2021). Exploring mental illness in the workplace: the role of HR professionals and processes.
  17. Hennekam, S., Follmer, K., & Beatty, J. (2021). Exploring mental illness in the workplace: the role of HR professionals and processes.
Next step

Support and Accommodate Illness

The Support and Accommodate Illness building block aims to remove barriers to employees seeking help, and to provide readily accessible mental health support for employees.