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World Mental Health Day: Leaders share insights on mental health and stigmas

World Mental Health Day, commemorated annually on October 10th, serves as a prominent global occasion dedicated to raising awareness regarding mental health matters, advocating for their significance, and striving towards improved mental well-being for all.

In a world where the pace of life can be relentless, and the pressures often overwhelming, the profound importance of this day cannot be emphasized enough. This essay delves into the inception, objectives, and the crucial role played by World Mental Health Day in advancing mental health awareness while combatting the prevailing stigmas that surround it.

The inception of World Mental Health Day dates back to 1992 when it was instigated by the collaborative efforts of the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) and the World Health Organization (WHO). This day’s establishment aimed to underscore the global significance of mental health, elevate awareness levels, and cultivate an environment where individuals and communities could openly engage in discussions addressing mental health concerns. Over the years, it has evolved into a pivotal platform for advocacy, education, and proactive initiatives.

In recognition of World Mental Health Day, we asked business leaders their views on how we can improve mental health and challenge the stigmas which exist within workplaces and society as a whole. 

Martin Herbst, CEO at JobAdder

“Many young people say they’re “no longer willing to hustle, pretend to love their jobs and go above and beyond for employers” that they feel are unappreciative of their efforts. This World Mental Health Day, I’d urge employers who may have experienced an increase in disengaged employees to use this day as a circuit breaker. Instead of being frustrated that some employees have taken a step back, why not use this as a chance to sit down and talk about what’s going on in their lives and ask whether there is anything you can do to make their time at work more meaningful?

“Are teams relying too much on employees working after hours to meet their targets? Since worker shortages are hitting companies hard, perhaps it’s time to check in with senior staff about how they’re feeling, if they’re managing OK, and whether they need further support in doing more with less. Days like World Mental Health Day should ideally be the starting point of such conversations rather than one-off events. 

“A compassionate work culture where everyone feels supported will help companies retain workers and motivate them to feel passionate about their careers again. Sometimes, a sledgehammer approach won’t cut it, and World Mental Health Day is just one small reminder.”

Chris Dahl, Co-CEO, Pin Payments 

“Men in the financial services sector have faced a higher risk of experiencing mental health issues for some time now, with 82% of men in the financial services reporting feeling stressed at work in the past month alone, according to the Financial Services Council. Largely this is due to high-pressure environments, longer hours and a lack of work-life balance. However, creating a supportive and inclusive workplace culture which values balance and flexible working arrangements can help to ease the pressures associated with work. Within our own business, we’ve always prioritised the mental wellbeing of our staff and this was particularly evident throughout COVID-19 in Melbourne, where our staff worked under stringent conditions from home. We were very aware of the mental health implications of lockdown and created wellness initiatives, like care packages and virtual catchups, to keep morale high. 

“We’ve now moved into a hybrid way of working, as we once again recognised that working entirely remotely wasn’t healthy or productive for our team, who needed more face-to-face interactions to increase creativity and overall workplace satisfaction. These minor changes make a big difference to the overall mental health of your employees and as a business leader, we have a responsibility to ensure we’re doing our part to keep people happy and healthy. As a CEO and business leader, I hope to encourage open and honest conversations surrounding mental health in and outside of work, so we can start to break the stigmas attached to mental health and gender.” 

Dr Richard Wise, Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Director at Wise Psychology

“Many men grapple with acknowledging the validity of their emotional world, often internalising their psychological distress and the reluctance to reach out only deepens this solitude. However, this isn’t just about gender, it’s about societal norms which have been ingrained from youth, perpetuated by prevailing ideas of masculinity. Too often, young boys are taught to adopt a detached and dismissive attitude, making these harmful stances the societal status quo. This stoicism, while seen as strength, often invalidates and isolates their suffering, paving the way for profound mental health challenges, borne from isolation and the suppression of natural vulnerabilities.

“Workplace cultures with toxic dynamics and power imbalances can leave people feeling marginalised and isolated, so it’s natural in these circumstances for stress to escalate creating mental health issues. It’s also no surprise that burnout often emerges in settings where individuals feel ill-equipped for their roles and uncertain of their responsibilities. True psychological safety exists in a culture where individuals are empowered to voice their feelings with honesty and vulnerability. Unfortunately, historically those who identify as male have been discouraged from doing so, due to an ingrained belief that it isn’t safe. To change these ingrained ideas we need to talk with openness and vulnerability, and the more men that can do that, the less stigma there will be. 

Thomas Fu, Founder and Executive Director, Motor Culture Australia

“As someone who started a business in my early twenties, I’m no stranger to the mental health challenges that surround the startup industry and business. With failure and success often existing side-by-side in the early days, stress levels as a founder are often high. Startup founders are twice as prone to depression, with 72 percent stating in the Startup Snapshot’s April 2023 report that their professional journey negatively impacted their mental well-being, causing stress, burnout, and more. Unfortunately, there is a lot of romanticism portrayed around running a startup, fuelled by Hollywood and popular culture. Likewise, due to the ‘grind’ and ‘hustle’ mentality that exists in startups, stoicism and silent suffering is often seen as a badge of honour. It’s these stigmas that we need to change, particularly for those that identify as male. It’s vital that we foster a workplace environment where men can openly discuss their feelings, thereby reshaping perceptions of masculinity and mental health. TradeMutt, a socially-conscious workwear brand, is leading the charge on this by combining interesting workwear with mental health advocacy, empowering men to engage in life-changing conversations. On World Mental Health Day, we’re reminded of the transformative power of discussions. By emphasising both mental and physical well-being and advocating through open dialogue, we can improve men’s holistic health worldwide.”

Julian Vivoli, Founder and Director, Vivoli Consulting Engineers

In male-dominated industries like construction and engineering where I’ve spent my career, mental health discussions are often sidelined or dismissed altogether. Pervasive stigmas, coupled with a fear of appearing incapable or weak, prevents an open dialogue from ever occurring. Part of the problem is the perception that vulnerability is a weakness, when in fact it represents an inner strength.

When I started my career I was exposed to some very unhealthy, toxic workplace cultures, which negatively impacted my mental health as a young professional. Over a decade on, within my own business those experiences taught me what not to do. I’ve actively worked to create a positive culture where the needs of my employees are heard before they escalate. Encouraging an openness surrounding seeking help, mental health days off work and creating genuine team connections have helped to do that. While events like World Mental Health Day put a spotlight on these issues, it’s on us to translate awareness into action, so we can champion better mental health. Ultimately, a conversation or any support you can provide could be the lifeline someone needs. 

Resources for mental health support 

Beyond Blue is a national organisation that provides information, support, and advocacy for mental health. They have a range of resources for men, including online forums, articles, and videos. They also have great resources for business founders. 

MensLine Australia is a free, 24/7 telephone and online counselling service for men. They offer support for a wide range of issues, including depression, anxiety, stress, relationship problems, and family violence.

This Is A Conversation Starter (TIACS) is the name of the not-for-profit mental health support service funded by TradeMutt. TIACS is a text and call service providing access to mental health clinicians in a free and easy to use way, helping to remove the physical and financial barriers that prevent many Australians from reaching out for help. 

In addition to these national resources, there are also a number of state and territory-based mental health services that offer support for men. You can find a list of these services on the Mental Health Australia website.

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