Why Exercise will Help your Mental Health in The Workplace
While in the Australian Public Service or in a Private Company, we can all take steps to improve our own mental health, and build our resilience – our ability to cope with adversity. Self-care is a skill that needs to be practised. It isn’t easy especially if we feel anxious, depressed or low in self-esteem.
If you are in Canberra, an essential building block for workplace mental health is the ability to have open, authentic conversations about mental health in the workplace, both individually and on a strategic level. This is more important than ever as we recover from the impact of the pandemic.
Regular exercise can help your mental/psychological health at work, thereby reducing the amount of missed work days you have.
If you need some advice on how exercise and physical activity can help you at work or even get you back to work, contact me below.
For your convience I have given you 4 points about how Exercise can help you in the worplace when you have Mental Health issues. I have also complied the Best Mental Health and Exercise Resources for the Workplace in Canberra.
And as a bonus, grab the Free PDF on Workplace Health and Wellness. Enjoy
Point 1 - Impact on our mood
Exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on our mood. A study asked people to rate their mood immediately after periods of physical activity and Exercise (e.g. going for a walk or doing housework), and periods of inactivity (e.g. reading a book or watching television).
Researchers found that the participants felt more content, more awake and calmer after being physically active compared to after periods of inactivity. They also found that the effect of physical activity on mood was greatest when mood was initially low.
There are many studies looking at physical activity at different levels of intensity and its impact on people’s mood. Overall, research has found that low-intensity aerobic exercise – for 30–35 minutes, 3–5 days a week, for 10–12 weeks – was best at increasing positive moods (e.g. enthusiasm, alertness).
Point 2 - Impact on our stress
When events occur that make us feel threatened or that upset our balance in some way, our body’s defences cut in and create a stress response, which may make us feel a variety of uncomfortable physical symptoms and make us behave differently, and we may also experience emotions more intensely.
The most common physical signs of stress include sleeping problems, sweating, and loss of appetite. Symptoms like these are triggered by a rush of stress hormones in our body – otherwise known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. It is these hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which raise our blood pressure, increase our heart rate and increase the rate at which we perspire, preparing our body for an emergency response.
They can also reduce blood flow to our skin and can reduce our stomach activity, while cortisol, another stress hormone, releases fat and sugar into the system to boost our energy.
Physical exercise can be very effective in relieving stress. Research on employed adults has found that highly active individuals tend to have lower stress rates compared to individuals who are less active.
Point 3 - Impact on our self-esteem
Exercise not only has a positive impact on our physical health, but it can also increase our self-esteem. Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves and how we perceive our self-worth. It is a key indicator of our mental wellbeing and our ability to cope with life stressors.
Physical activity has been shown to have a positive influence on our self-esteem and self-worth. This relationship has been found in children, adolescents, young adults, adults and older people, and across both males and females.
Point 4 - Impact on depression and anxiety
Exercise can be an alternative treatment for depression. It can be used as a standalone treatment or in combination with medication and/or psychological therapy. It has few side effects and does not have the stigma that some people perceive to be attached to taking antidepressants or attending psychotherapy and counselling.
Physical activity can reduce levels of anxiety in people with mild symptoms and may also be helpful for treating clinical anxiety. Physical activity is available to all, has few costs attached, and is an empowering approach that can support self-management.
The Best Resources for Mental and Physiological Health and Exercise in the Workplace in Canberra
As mentioned above Accelr8 Rehab is the best place for you if you need to start exercising and managing your Mental Health in Canberra. Exercise Physiology prescription along with massage is a great combination to build confidence and enhance your own hormone response to your mental health.
Mental (psychological) health, just like physical health, is an important part of work health and safety (WHS).
Recognising and managing risks in the workplace that may lead to physical or psychological injury is an essential part of creating a safe, healthy and productive workplace.
Work-related psychological injury is expensive - it’s estimated that poor psychological health and safety costs Australian organisations $6 billion per annum in lost productivity.
Occasionally, one seemingly minor incident can have long term impacts on worker’s psychological and physical health. This can be due to a build-up of negative experiences or other unexplainable factors which are not immediately apparent. These reactions may include:
- physical signs – like headaches, insomnia, indigestion, high blood pressure, alopecia, loss of appetite
- emotional factors – such as irritability, lack of concentration, anxiety, depression, loss of confidence, low morale
- behavioural aspects – such as poor work performance, accidents, poor relationships at home and work, dependence on tobacco, drugs and alcohol.
Psychological hazards that can negatively impact on a worker's health and safety include (but are not limited to):
During COVID-19, the Mentally Healthier Workplaces initiative has been expanded to provide additional online supports and training for ACT businesses and organisations. We also encourage you to take the Mentally Healthier Workplaces Pledge and incorporate these supports into a 12-month action plan that will see your workplace recognised for its commitment to workplace mental health.
Details on this free support and training are provided below.
- Free webinar recordings
- Mindarma (mental fitness training)
- QPR for Business (suicide prevention training)
Mindarma (as in Mind Armour) is an award winning evidence-based online program, supported by Black Dog Institute, proven to bolster mental fitness and enhance mental wellbeing. Mindarma features for users include:
- 10 fun interactive sessions (each around 15 mins)
- guided mindfulness audio exercises to download and keep
- expert updates and bonus material.
Only non-government businesses and organisations in the ACT are eligible to register for the Mindarma training, for up to 30 employees per workplace. Please register your interest here. Hurry, as places are limited.
You can also check out a short video on Mindarma on YouTube.
Work-related mental health conditions (also known as psychological injuries) have become a major concern in Australian workplaces due to the negative impact on individual employees, and the costs associated with the long periods away from work that are typical of these claims. Each year:
- 7,200 Australians are compensated for work-related mental health conditions, equating to around 6% of workers’ compensation claims, and
- approximately $543 million is paid in workers’ compensation for work-related mental health conditions.
Mental health in the workplace
Mental health can be adversely affected by exposure to a range of hazards or factors in the workplace, including, for example:
- high job demand
- low job demand
- poor support
- poor workplace relationships
- low role clarity
- poor organisational change management
- poor organisational justice
- poor environmental conditions
- remote or isolated work, and
- violent or traumatic events.
Exposure to these hazards can lead to work-related stress. When stress is very high and or prolonged it can in turn lead to work-related psychological or physical injury. For example, work-related stress may lead to depression and anxiety in the long term.
Work-related stress has been linked with high levels of:
- unplanned absences including sick leave
- staff turnover
- withdrawal and presenteeism, and
- poor work and poor product quality.
Snapshot of claims for mental health conditions
Claims involving mental health conditions are usually associated with an above average time off work and higher than average claim costs. Over the five years between 2010-11 and 2014-15:
- typical compensation payment per claim was $24,500 compared to $9,000 for all claims, and
- typical time off work was 15.3 weeks compared to 5.5 weeks for all claims.
During this period, one out of every 1,470 full-time employees claimed for a mental health condition every year, and:
- 41% of claims caused by harassment, bullying or exposure to violence
- 91% of claims attributed to mental stress (see below), and
- 60% of claims awarded to workers aged 40 and over.
Between 2010–11 and 2014–15, around 91% of workers’ compensation claims involving a mental health condition were linked to work-related stress or mental stress—mental stress refers to the mechanism of injury describing work-related stress in claims data. The most common mechanisms causing mental stress were:
- work pressure (31%)
- work-related harassment and/or bullying (27%)
- exposure to workplace or occupational violence (14%)
- other mental stress (9%)
- exposure to a traumatic event (7%)
- vehicle accident (3%)
- being assaulted (3%), and
- sexual/racial harassment (2%).
Most at risk occupations
Over the five-year period reviewed by SWA, the occupations with the highest rate of claims for mental health conditions were:
- defence force members, fire fighters and police (5.3 claims per million hours), specifically police (6.6)
- automobile, bus and rail drivers (2.8 claims per million hours), specifically train and tram drivers (10.3)
- health and welfare support workers (2.8 claims per million hours), specifically indigenous health workers (6.0)
- prison and security officers (1.6 claims per million hours), specifically prison officers (4.0), and
- social and welfare professionals (1.2 claims per million hours).
The highest occupation unit groups were:
- train and tram drivers (10.3 claims per million hours)
- police (6.6 claims per million hours)
- Indigenous health workers (6.0 claims per million hours)
- prison officers (4.0 claims per million hours)
- ambulance officers and paramedics (4.0 claims per million hours).
The overall rate of claims for mental health conditions (all occupations) was 0.51 claims per million hours, and the frequency rate fell from 0.51 in 2005–06 to 0.43 in 2014–15.
The nature of these occupation groups suggests that workers who receive compensation for a work-related mental health condition tend to be those who have high levels of interaction with other people, are often providing a public service and often doing their job in difficult and challenging circumstances.
Work health and safety duties
The model WHS Act requires a PCBU to ensure the health and safety of their workers, so far as is reasonably practicable. It defines health to mean both physical and psychological health. The model WHS laws have not been implemented in Victoria and Western Australia, although those jurisdiction have comparable duties and definitions of health.
- Under the model WHS Act, PCBUs have a duty to protect workers from psychological risks as well as physical risks.
- The best way to do this is by designing work, systems and workplaces to eliminate or minimise risks to psychological health; monitoring the health of workers and workplace conditions; and consulting with workers.
- Employers also have a duty to make sure work is safe for those returning after a workplace illness or injury.
Under the model WHS laws, a PCBU must consult with workers on health and safety matters that are likely to directly affect them, including on psychological hazards and risks. Further information on consultation is in the model Code of Practice: Work health and safety consultation, cooperation and coordination.
Workers have a duty to take reasonable care of their health and safety and not adversely affect others’ health and safety. They must comply, so far as they are reasonably able, with reasonable instructions on health and safety matters, and cooperate with reasonable WHS policies or procedures that they have been notified of. For example, this might include working to job descriptions to avoid role conflict or cooperating with workplace policies to prevent bullying.
Guide to work-related psychological health and safety
The Guide describes a systematic approach to managing work-related psychological health and safety, including preventing harm by eliminating or minimising risks, intervening early and supporting recovery.
See our infographic: Four steps to preventing psychological injury at work on how to use the four-step risk management process to manage psychological risks.
PCBUS should intervene if they identify a psychological risk or notice a worker becoming stressed, and support a worker who has lodged a workers compensation claim while their claim is being determined. The earlier a worker is identified as experiencing work-related stress, the sooner steps can be taken to prevent a work-related mental health condition developing or an existing condition worsening.
Workers’ compensation and work-related mental health conditions
Each jurisdiction (the Commonwealth, and each state and territory) in Australia has its own no-fault workers’ compensation legislation. These laws aim to support workers in the event of a work-related injury or illness, including a work-related mental health condition.
The Work-related psychological health and safety guide provides information on managing work-related psychological health and safety. The Guide also provides information about WHS and workers’ compensation legislation requirements.
Workers’ compensation laws vary in operation and application in each jurisdiction across Australia. For specific guidance on workers’ compensation matters, it is recommend you contact your relevant workers’ compensation authority.
Further information about workers’ compensation is available in the Comparison of workers’ compensation arrangements in Australia and New Zealand and on the workers’ compensation page.
Managing work-related mental health condition claims
Best practice psychological claims management begins with recognising the complexity and unique challenges often seen with psychological injuries, and ensuring an injured worker is empowered and supported throughout the claims process.
The Taking Action: A best practice framework for the management of psychological claims in the Australian workers’ compensation sector (the framework) provides evidence-based guidance to assist insurers and claims managers to better support workers with a work related mental health condition or who are at risk of developing one.
Recovery and Return to Work
Recovery and return to work (RTW) relates to supporting workers to come back or stay at work after experiencing a work-related mental health condition. It is important employers ensure workers return to a safe environment where psychological hazards are identified and controlled.
Psychosocial risk assessment tool for businesses
A psychosocial risk assessment tool that includes resources to help organisations identify, manage and evaluate injury prevention and management interventions, is available from People at Work.
Developed by Safe Work Australia, the University of Queensland, the Australian National University, Queensland Government and WorkSafe Victoria, the free assessment tool helps PCBUs identify workplace risks and focus on prevention.
People at Work provides access to:
- A free, reliable and valid psychosocial risk assessment tool.
- Resources to help implement a psychosocial risk management approach and evaluate the effectiveness of chosen interventions.
Benefits of implementing People at Work
Benefits of implementing the People at Work psychosocial risk assessment process include:
- A focus on managing work-related psychosocial risk and prevention of work-related mental health conditions.
- Communicating a clear message to workers that their organisation values their health and wellbeing.
- Taking positive steps towards complying with health and safety laws in relation to psychological health.
There are a number of services available to people who are feeling depressed, stressed or anxious. They include:
Safe Work Australia is not a regulator and cannot advise you about work health and safety compliance. If you need help, please contact your state or territory work health and safety authority.
LiveHealthyCanberra can help employers and workplaces find opportunities for staff to make healthier lifestyle choices - both inside and out of the workplace.
Searching the LiveHealthyCanberra directory using the employment health category will highlight programs which provide services designed to help your employees make healthier lifestyle choices and reduce their risk of preventable chronic disease.
There are many programs and services that can come to your workplace and conduct healthy living workshops, lunch and learn sessions, group fitness classes or cooking demonstrations - just to name a few. There are also programs and services which have a focus on helping people to return to work after an injury or manage stress arising from their job.
Employers can play a role in helping to support the health of their staff by encouraging them to take an active interest in reducing their risk of chronic disease through participation in physical activity and healthy eating.
The types of programs and services that employers and workplaces might find useful include:
- staff health education programs
- cooking and healthy eating demonstration opportunities
- workplace based group fitness such as yoga or bootcamp
- rehabilitation for workplace injury
- services that operate nearby to your workplace where staff can be physically active during their breaks
With one third of our adult lives spent at work, and work-related stress estimated to affect around 32 per cent of all Australians, mental health in the workplace is a significant issue. The ACT’s new Work Health and Safety Commissioner, Jacqueline Agius, said that workplace mental health matters, and it should be addressed the same way as other workplace health and safety concerns.
Recognising the need to assist Canberra employers, the ACT Government recently launched a $4.5 million mental health package as a part of a suite of mental health resources for workers suffering from isolation, anxiety and poor mental health.
The new measures are designed to complement and extend the ACT Government’s Healthier Work program by providing free support to local businesses to develop and implement annual health and wellbeing plans to help both individual behaviour change and, importantly, shift workplace cultures and environments.
Healthier Work’s areas of focus include healthy eating, physical activity, mental health through social and emotional
wellbeing, reduction of alcohol consumption, and smoking cessation. So far, 67 local businesses have signed up to the program.
With COVID-19 presenting new challenges and, in some cases, exacerbating workplace mental health risks, Commissioner Agius said it was time to move more resources online.
“We have introduced health and wellbeing webinars, online training and suicide prevention courses to help struggling workers and local businesses access the help they need when they need it,” she said. “The webinars have been really popular and we will ensure these valuable resources remain online for more employers and employees to access.”
The webinars include topics such as effective communication for employers, the benefits of physical exercise, and healthy eating for immunity and wellbeing. Other new initiatives are mental fitness training, Mindarma, QPR for Business and suicide prevention training.
“In many cases, workplaces have needed to change drastically in response to the pandemic,” said Commissioner Agius. “While some employees may relish the chance to work from home, for others this has increased risks associated with isolation, and removed supports that work provided for them.
“Traditionally, work health and safety covered the physical risk of workplaces, but psychosocial risks need to be examined, too. Any hazard that results in injury is a workplace health and safety issue. Employers should also focus on psychosocial hazards in the workplace.”
One of the early adopters of the ACT Government’s Mentally Healthier Workplaces initiative was BAL Lawyers, which saw the need to commit as many resources as possible to support staff during this current challenging time and into the future.
“With untreated mental ill health now the leading cause of absenteeism and long-term work incapacity in Australia, the Healthier Work initiative makes good business sense,” said BAL Lawyers director, employment law and investigations, Gabrielle Sullivan.
“But beyond the bottom line, it also makes sense within our workplace culture which is one that actively and proactively promotes balance, health and wellbeing. All BAL directors are committed to encouraging our staff to adopt a healthy and balanced approach at work. In line with this commitment, BAL has pursued long-term participation in the ACT Healthier Work’s recognition scheme.”
Since joining the initiative in 2006, BAL has moved through the ranks to achieve platinum status.
“When the Healthier Workplaces initiative started, our program comprised boot-camp style physical fitness sessions and has evolved during the years to include healthy eating and social and emotional wellbeing initiatives such as a salad club, yoga classes, nutritional and mental health seminars, health checks, flu shots, weekly fruit baskets and a CSR [corporate social responsibility] program supporting local charities,” says Ms Sullivan.
“Unfortunately, COVID-19 has forced some of these group activities to go on hold, making it even more important for us to encourage staff to engage with online wellbeing initiatives that help them find other ways to support their wellbeing.
“By creating a workplace that prevents harm, promotes a positive culture, protects wellbeing and provides support for those who need it, businesses can ensure their people do their best and be their best.”
For more information on the Mentally Healthier Workplaces initiative and to access online resources, visit the ACT Government’s Healthier Work website.
Mental illness is the leading cause of absence and long-term incapacity in the workplace, this makes it a crucial setting for our research.
In this research area, we are
- understanding the causes of mental ill health and the implications of policy;
- delivering and testing novel interventions to lower stress, depression and anxiety in workplaces;
- improving the health of high-risk groups such as frontline workers and doctors;
With a focus on high-risk industries and the life cycle of mental ill health at work, our evidence-based programs support the prevention and management of mental health issues in the workplace.
Why our research matters
Time at work each week
The average worker spends over a third of their weekly waking hours at work, making it a prime environment to deliver training and interventions.
Essential services, like frontline and medical workers, carry a high stress load and increase the chance of mental health conditions and suicide risk.
Cost to business and the economy
The Australian economy loses approximately $12 billion per year in reduced productivity and sickness absence related to mental health issues.
The ACT Recovery College is a safe place to learn about mental health, recovery and wellbeing. It seeks to bring together the strengths and expertise of the community mental health sector, the adult education sector, and the government sector. The College was officially opened by the ACT Minister for Mental Health, Shane Rattenbury in April 2019.
The College is open to all Canberrans over 18 years. We offer FREE education courses and provide a non-judgemental space for people to learn tips and strategies for developing confidence, control and effective well-being and illness self-management tools. Our courses are co-produced by people with lived (consumer/carer) and subject matter expertise, or hosted in partnership with affiliate organisations.
Our College is based on four core principles:
- Learning: Promoting person-centred education where the voice of the lived experience is heard and respected in equal partnership with clinicians and professionals.
- Connection: Enhancing social inclusion and community belonging is central to ‘living a good life’.
- Opportunity: It’s never too late to learn new knowledge, attitude and skills.
- Hope: Recovery is possible.
What is Mental Health Month?
Mental Health Month is an annual event celebrated in over 100 countries in an effort to raise community awareness and understanding of mental illness, reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness, and promote positive mental health and wellbeing.
World Mental Health Day 2020 is Saturday 10 October.
When is Mental Health Month in the ACT?
Mental Health Month in the ACT runs throughout the month of October. There are many ways you can get involved in Mental Health Month this October as an organisation or individual. Click here to see how you can be involved.
Many local Canberra groups and organisations will hold a variety of events in the ACT throughout October. Take a look at our previous calendar to find out more information.
The theme for Mental Health Month in the ACT each year is provided by a local individual, school or organisation.
The 2019 Mental Health Month theme for ACT was 'Conversations and Connection’.
This theme was submitted by XTend Life and Behavioural Coaching Canberra.
Intentional conversations are crucial to support mental health and wellbeing and reinforce the notion that we are not alone. Feeling connected to each other and our communities builds confidence, gives us a sense of belonging and brings meaning to our lives.
Join the local conversation online by using the hashtag #mentalhealthmonthact and show us how you are connecting with our community and having important conversations.
Workplace Wellbeing and COVID-19 Support - WayAhead
We have compiled resources from various sources to help you do your job in workplace health and wellbeing during this unique time in the world.
We don’t know how long it will take for COVID-19 to run its course, but we do know the consequences will linger for a while as the economic and mental health costs play out. Workplaces may indeed be changed forever, or at least the way we work will, because of this global pandemic. The need for support will continue for all of 2020 and beyond. Please keep this in mind when planning your workplace mental health and wellbeing programs and support for your employees.
Exercise Right at Home – Exercise & Sports Science Australia
Workouts that you can do in the safety of your own home, and resources to help educate & inspire Australians to stay active at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Work from Home Resource Suite – Get Healthy at Work
The Get Healthy at Work team have recently developed a new suite of work from home resources, addressing a number of health areas that are particularly relevant to workplaces at this moment. The resources have been designed to be relevant during and after any COVID-19 restrictions are in place.
- Alcohol Consumption while WFH – Employers
- Alcohol Consumption while WFH – Workers
- Being Healthy while WFH
- Healthy Eating while WFH
- Quitting Smoking while WFH
Eating for a healthy headspace – headspace
Tips from an expert, a factsheet on food & mood, and an interactive experience for personalised suggestions.
Boost Your Healthy During COVID-19 – Health & Wellbeing Queensland
Support, inspiration & ideas to stay healthy & active at home during COVID-19.
Food & healthy eating during COVID-19 – Metro South Health Qld
Handy guides & recipes for cooking at home during COVID-19.
Healthy at Home – Nutrition Australia Queensland
Information to stay healthy at home, including for general nutrition, pregnancy & babies, and 1-5 year olds.
Getting good sleep during the COVID-19 pandemic – Sleep Health Foundation
Exercises to do at home – The Heart Foundation
The Exercises to do at home guide is a free download that covers a range of exercise tips and ideas, easy to follow instructions for at home exercises and and exercises suitable for different parts of the body.