26-Jun-2019

are hologram doctors the future of mental health services? maybe not, but digital health is

Australia has launched its first ever Productivity Commission on mental health – and as far as solutions go, digital health needs to be front and centre. There was a time in Australia when construction workers didn’t wear hard hats onsite, factory workers had to work 12-hour days, and no one had even heard of an OH&S safety demonstration.  Government regulations and workplaces evolved over the past 100 years for two important reasons – to protect workers and to protect the economy. It simply wasn’t good business to have once productive employees laid up in bed with broken bones or exhaustion – safe and supportive workplaces meant better productivity for companies and a better Australian economy overall. In 2019, our ‘lucky country’ now has some of the most stringent workplace safety laws in the world. But, the nature of work has changed dramatically in the 104 years since the Australian industrial relations system began. While physical health and safety must always be a primary concern, the mental load workers are placed under in our highly pressurised society is taking a toll – on them, and our economy.  AN INVISIBLE CRISIS Just last month the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that the loss of productivity resulting from depression and anxiety is costing the global economy US $1 trillion each year. Here in Australia, four per cent of our GDP is lost every year due to productivity losses as a result of workers’ mental health issues – that’s at least AU $60 billion! However, in an extremely welcome and encouraging move, the government has established Australia’s first-ever Productivity Commission to ‘examine the effect of mental health on people’s ability to participate in and prosper in the community and workplace, and the effects it has more generally on our economy and productivity’.  Initial submissions are open until 5 April this year, and I encourage everyone to make their voices and concerns heard during this important process.  But, given the staggering economic impact of mental health on Australia’s economy why has this commission taken so long to be convened? Well, recognising and diagnosing mental health issues is much more difficult than identifying physical hazards in the workplace – we struggle as people to fix what we can’t see. And, importantly, solutions for improving the mental health of employees aren’t as easy to come by as clearly marking fire exits and limiting work hours.   REMOVING BARRIERS In 2014, an IBIS report on the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) sector suggested that the usage rate of EAP services in certain industries could be as low as five per cent. The research indicated that employees generally don’t trust EAP services, are concerned about the confidentiality of such programs, and that they are perceived to have a poor quality of care – practitioners are inexperienced, or not well-matched with their clients.  In this environment, many businesses are increasingly looking to alternative solutions. Digital health is easy for employees to access, especially remote workers or those in rural areas, and can be used at their convenience, so after hours or even on weekends.  Most importantly, digital health platforms like Cyber Clinic use sophisticated algorithms to better match practitioners with patients, measure quality of care, and ensure trust and confidentiality are the foundation of all practitioner-patient relationships.  A 2019 report identified that a barrier to using telehealth in Australia was the perception of the loss of the ‘human touch’ aspect of care – only 14 per cent of the population said remote appointments using hologram doctors in their home would have the most impact on improving healthcare today. But we don’t need to beam doctors into homes or workplaces to see positive outcomes – the digital health platforms that connect patients and practitioners via video can be just the right mix of technological innovation and human care. Digital health can change lives, improve productivity and increase Australia’s GDP, and my hope is that one day mental health support in the workplace will be as clearly visible as a well-marked fire exit.  
26-Jun-2019

my top workplace productivity tip for 2019: talk about mental health

An employee or colleague who is struggling can’t leave their issues at home - having workplace conversations about mental health is the best thing you can do to improve your business in 2019. It’s a new year and my LinkedIn feed has been flooded with optimistic messages of people’s hopes, dreams and goals for their work and their business in 2019. I love this time of year - that uplifting and euphoric feeling that comes with new beginnings is infectious and anything seems possible.  But, unfortunately, that feeling rarely lasts and for many of us it will give way to feelings of stress, anxiety and depression as work starts to pile up and personal issues begin to strain our relationships. Looking at the months ahead, how can you identify an employee or colleague who is struggling, and what can you do to help them? NO MATTER THE TRIGGER, PROVIDE HELP Research conducted by beyondblue in 2014 revealed that one in five Australian employees had taken time off work due to feeling mentally unwell in the preceding 12 months. While some mental health issues can have workplace triggers, such as job stress, toxic cultural environments and overwork, many others are triggered by personal factors in an employee’s life. However, this does not mean help shouldn’t be provided within the workplace.  During my time working with dozens of companies and organisations around Australia, I’ve witnessed first hand how helping employees improve their mental health can be one of the most important steps to improve a worker’s productivity, as well as the health of the entire organisation. In fact, 75 per cent of Australian employees believe workplaces should provide support to someone who is experiencing depression or anxiety, but many employees (35 per cent) don’t know what mental health resources exist in their organisation or don’t have access to them. That’s why providing an open and safe environment to have mental health conversations is so crucial.   DOES SOMEONE YOU KNOW NEED HELP? Employees are often fearful of raising mental health concerns with their employer due to stigma and concerns about future job prospects. Which means, it’s not always enough to wait for an employee or colleague to come asking for help – sometimes you have to go to them.   If someone you work with closely seems increasingly withdrawn or disengaged, is easily distracted, no longer producing work to their usual standard, is increasingly irritable or more absent than usual they may be struggling with their mental health.  You spend hours with your workmates, often in highly stressful situations, so if you find yourself saying “they’ve changed”, “that’s not usually like them” or “they don’t seem ok” then your instincts are probably correct. But, what do you do next? SUPPORTING SOMEONE WHO IS STRUGGLING Raising your concerns with an employee or colleague about their mental health can seem like a daunting task, and, perhaps you might question whether it is even your place to do so at all? But silence is the very thing that feeds depression and anxiety and allows it to grow – caring too much about someone is never a bad thing.  So, firstly, plan your approach. Increase your mental health literacy and find out what options your workplace has available to provide help. Be prepared that the person may get angry or upset and try not to take it personally. And, approach them in a neutral environment, over coffee or lunch for instance, and allow the person to talk to give them the space and ability to open up.  Our mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum – we aren’t only mentally unwell at home or outside the office. It is everyone’s responsibility, from the CEO and HR to managers and assistants, to make it easier to have conversations about mental health in the workplace.  My hope for 2019 is that all Australian employees feel healthy, happy and productive – so let’s start the conversation.
30-Apr-2019

face-to-face video consultations offer even more flexibility for consumers who need mental health support

Clients eligible for SEMPHN-funded Accessible Psychological Interventions (API) services can now access free and secure video consultations in the comfort of their own home. API services offer support for people with mental illnesses like mild depression or anxiety, via a range of short term psychological interventions. South Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network (SEMPHN) has awarded Cyber Clinic the tender to deliver the video consultations across the catchment. Expert practitioners and clients are connected securely, via Cyber Clinic’s free smartphone app. The initiative means that people who are geographically isolated, time-poor, or have a preference for in-home services, have more options for how they get mental health care – at a level of support matched to their needs. A support worker can help clients to set up or access the video consultations and book their first appointment. All consultations are free of charge.                                                                             API (including API video consultations) are part of SEMPHN's Stepped Care Model for Mental Health, where people can 'step up' to higher intensity, or 'step down' to lower intensity services, as their needs change. For referrals and more information, call SEMPHN’s Access & Referral Team on 1800 862 363 or fax 1300 354 053.
25-Feb-2019

why a mentally healthy workplace will make you an ‘employer of choice’ in 2019

Employee engagement, recruitment and retention will be key challenges for HR practitioners in 2019, and a mentally healthy workplace will be a deciding factor for many employees in the new year. Last month Oxford Dictionary declared ‘toxic’ as its ‘Word of 2018’. I feel confident that this year’s winner will resonate with a lot more people than last year’s somewhat bizarre choice – ‘youthquake’. We use ‘toxic’ to describe everything from chemicals and masculinity to relationships, and it says a lot about the past 12 months that this word has seen a 45 per cent surge on the Oxford Dictionary website. In 2018 many patients, friends and colleagues expressed to me a heightened feeling that ‘toxic’ encounters, cultures and relationships are everywhere, and I have witnessed the toll this is taking on their mental health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, in my experience, the place that people most often describe as ‘toxic’ is the workplace, and the results of this year’s Indicators of a Thriving Workplace Survey should be a wakeup call to businesses around the country. PRESENT BUT NOT PRODUCTIVE Over 5,000 Australian workers across a broad range of industries were surveyed for the Thriving Workplace study and bullying was declared the second reason (24 per cent) people experienced mental issues at work, only slightly behind job insecurity (29 per cent) in the top spot. Equally concerning is that only 18 per cent of respondents strongly agreed that “work feels like a community where people support each other beyond just getting work done”. Employees who experience mental health issues at work will have lower self-esteem, reduced productivity and increased absenteeism and presenteeism. In fact, the impact of employees’ mental health conditions on productivity, participation and compensation claims was estimated by PwC in 2014 to cost Australian businesses at least $10.9 billion a year.   In my work over the past eight years consulting with businesses on workplace performance, I know that presenteeism, the practice of being at work for longer hours than required though not being fully functioning or productive, can be the hardest issue to combat. The signs an employee is struggling are not immediately obvious as they continue to ‘present’ themselves at work, and a ‘toxic’ culture encourages employees to trudge along rather than seek help. And then, with what seems like no warning at all, that employee quits. An Employer of Choice Study by BeyondBlue revealed that almost half the employees surveyed had left a workplace because it had a poor environment in terms of mental health. AN EASY CHOICE So, what’s the good news in all of this? Well, the same BeyondBlue survey stated that a mentally healthy workplace that was both friendly and supportive and promoted and protected the mental health of its employees was the second most powerful inhibitor of a worker leaving their job. With employee retention becoming even harder as more millennials enter the workforce, having a proactive and accessible mental health support plan is a clear point of difference for any business. On-site workshops and trainings on shifting ‘toxic’ culture norms and implementing anti-bullying behaviours are important, as well as telehealth services that employees can access with ease when they need them. I have seen businesses thrive once they banish ‘toxic’ behaviours from the workplace and make mental health support a cornerstone of their employee engagement strategy – 2019 could be your business’ most productive year yet.
05-Dec-2018

awareness and access: why we need both to save men from dying too young

The health industry has made great strides in the past 15 years to raise awareness of men’s mental health issues in Australia. But awareness is only the first step – now we must focus on access. The streets are different in Australia in November. Once clean-shaven men start sporting ‘the trucker’, ‘the rock star’ or ‘the connoisseur’. The humble moustache takes on a life of its own, and, wonderfully, helps start conversations about men’s health. But, now that Movember has come to a close, we must ask the question - where do men turn during the other 11 months of the year? Since 2004 the Movember Foundation has been campaigning to raise awareness of the risks of prostate cancer and testicular cancer, and mental health and suicide prevention among men. In Australia, 75 per cent of suicides are men, and globally, every minute, a man dies of suicide. I fully support awareness campaigns like Movember that have helped destigmatize conversations about men’s mental health and have brought those conversations to the forefront of Australian workplaces and society. Governments, businesses and individuals have all rallied around the cause. But, as with all health campaigns, the gap between awareness and behaviour change is a mighty chasm. Being aware of the dangers of HIV/AIDS does not mean people always use condoms, and decades of school awareness programs have not stopped everyone from smoking. Awareness is an important and necessary first step, but what comes next? Lonely hearts die young A few weeks ago the Australian Loneliness Report made national headlines for revealing that one in four adult Australians are lonely. The report painted a bleak picture of our society, with nearly 55 per cent of the population reporting they feel a lack of companionship at least sometimes. While males reported better physical health, they did report less social interaction than females, and a 2015 study stated that there is evidence to suggest that loneliness is associated with a 26 per cent increased likelihood of mortality. Time and again in my work as a psychologist and lawyer I have witnessed men put up internal barriers to not seek help - their lack of social interaction and fear of judgement are obstacles that definitely need to be addressed. But, external barriers to accessing mental health support, such as cost, the location of services, and lack of knowledge of how to access services are just as important, and just as much a challenge, as internal barriers. Opening a door According to a 2008 Australian Bureau of Statistics report men are less likely to seek help than women, with only one in four men who experience anxiety or depression accessing treatment. Today, inevitably, men begin their journey to accessing help on the Internet. But, with so many services, websites and touch points, many quickly become overwhelmed and never follow through on getting treatment. It is incredibly important that all men in Australia have a trusted source they can easily access to receive mental health support. Telehealth has been around for some time - rural Australians and employee well-being programs for remote workers have long accessed the expertise of GPs and specialists via telephone, and more recently, the Internet. But, telehealth has rarely been used on a significant scale for mental health services or been applied to urban patients - the belief is that those in the city and suburban environments can readily access mental health professionals face-to-face. But, in my 12 years as a psychologist, rarely has the problem of access been as simple as proximity to services. Accessing a mental health professional should be about finding a trustworthy expert that is the best fit for the client and be as simple as a mouse click. Something you can do on a lunch break or on a weekend from the comfort of your own home. Many of the barriers men face in seeking mental health treatment can be overcome using an online service. Using the Internet as a platform for psychological consultations could be perceived as impersonal, but caring about patients and supporting them through their mental health journey can just as easily be done via a screen as in an office. Telehealth means whether in Mildura, Brisbane or Broken Hill, men can get the support they need in their own time, and on their terms. Men’s mental health is a tricky and complex problem, but with awareness and access, I believe we can make Australia a less lonely place.

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