Liz Darlington-Brown
April 10, 2023
Culture, Diversity & Inclusion

Mental vs Physical: Why Mental Safety Needs To Be On The Agenda

As a society, we’ve begun the process of de-stigmatising mental health issues—especially in men, with amazing organisations, programs and campaigns such as ‘Beyond Blue’, ‘R U OK Day’ and ‘Men’s Health Week’.  However in the workplace, the awful truth is that mental illness is still not widely accepted; being at times deemed a career killer and something that should be managed independent to our work lives.

This continued stigma around mental health is magnified in industries that are male dominated, like the Construction + Infrastructure industry; and the statistics shed light on how serious this problem really is:

  • Construction workers more than twice as likely to die by suicide than other people in Australia
  • Apprentices in construction are 2.5 times more likely to take their own life than other young men in Australia
  • They are also 6 times more likely to die by suicide than through a workplace accident

While there are so many industry regulations and employer policies in place to ensure the physical safety of employees, there are few policies and minimal regulations in place to look after an employee’s mental health.

Michelle Morgan, Health and Wellbeing Manager at Essential Energy, believes that physical and mental health go hand in hand—you cannot have one without the other.

“You can’t have safety as a key value if you’re not combining mental safety”. – Morgan

PWC estimates that businesses lose 10.9 billion dollars annually for neglecting to address mental health in the workplace; this can include costs of presenteeism and absenteeism, as well as workers compensation claims.

What we need to understand first, is that we are all human.  The 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing concluded that 45 per cent of the adult population will experience a mental disorder at some time in their life.  So, if nearly 1 in every 2 of us will experience a mental illness, how realistic is it to expect that we won’t see these issues cropping up in the workplace?

Long work hours, shift work, tight project deliverables and competing demands (both in and out of the workplace) all increase the release of cortisol (the stress hormone) into our bodies and, over time, reduce our cognitive functioning.

While technology has evolved to help us work ‘smarter’, the ability to take our work home on those small portable devices we all love to hate has led to us working ‘harder’.  Without taking time out to rest and recuperate, the stressors we experience in our daily work lives begin to decrease the serotonin (happy hormone) levels in our brain, leading to mental health issues.

Even for those of us that establish firm boundaries between our work and personal lives, or who implement strategies to maintain optimal mental health, on occasion all it can take is an acute stressor or trauma, and we humans need social support to help get us back on track.

As we spend so much of our time at work, it’s only natural that in those moments, we might look to our colleagues or workplace for that support.  It is absolutely drastic that we as businesses and leaders have the proper support mechanisms in place.

While many of us understand that mental illness is on the rise and people are in dire need of a supportive environment, the only way change will happen is if CEO’s and senior leaders in businesses hold the same conviction.

Ross Jones, Vice President & Executive Director, Strategic Growth Buildings & Infrastructure APAC & Middle East at Jacobs, believes that if mental health statistics were reported similarly to physical safety data, more CEO’s would be jumping on board to tackle this on-going issue. 

“A huge amount of money is being spent on physical safety, but mental safety is not getting the same attention.” – Jones

The reason for this is simple: we are neglecting to realise the correlation between the two and undervaluing the impact mental health has on employee productivity.

We believe that in order to incite change in the industry, and see mental safety gaining the same attention as physical safety, we need to first have leaders who believe that mental safety deserves the same attention.

A Human Agency are dedicated to disrupting the flow; and in this case, we are working towards creating a systematic change on how industry’s manage mental health safety in the workplace.

If you’d like to know more, get in touch!





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