Dr Skehan OAM is Director of Everymind, a national institute dedicated to mental health & suicide prevention. She is a registered psychologist & holds a conjoint appointment with the College of Health, Medicine & Wellbeing at Uni of Newcastle.
The last 18 months have been a tough time for everyone. Dr Jaelea Skehan, director of Everymind highlights the importance of addressing financial and work-related stress and shares tips for helping yourself and others.
In the wake of COVID-19, bushfires and other natural disasters, economic wellbeing has come into focus as a priority for families, businesses and governments. As too has our individual and collective mental health as we manage ongoing changes to the way we work, study, parent, and live. The truth is, our financial wellbeing and our mental wellbeing are inextricably linked.
We know that when people are stressed, anxious and fearful, they can put off effectively managing their finances and planning for their future. But we also know that financial uncertainty and fears about not having enough money can contribute to stress, anxiety and depression.
Financial stress can leave people feeling trapped, overwhelmed and in acute distress. For some people, a change in their finances can also coincide with a job loss or a change in jobs, business stress or business failure, a relationship breakdown, a lawsuit or other stressors that can isolate people from their natural supports.
This can be compounded when the financial stress creates a barrier to seeking help, especially when people feel they can’t afford to take time off work or dedicate the financial resources they have to their own mental health.
Financial planners and others who support people to better manage their finances play an important role in helping individuals, families and businesses to thrive. They are also well-placed to identify those who may be distressed and in need of additional support.
Starting a conversation
The factors influencing a person’s level of distress can be social, personal, financial, or arise from other stressors in their lives. Recent landmark reports from the Productivity Commission and the Prime Minister’s Suicide Prevention Adviser outlined a need to move from a crisis-driven response to mental health and suicide prevention, to an earlier response that engages people where they are, at the point of distress.
Financial planners are not often considered as being on the front line of our mental health and suicide prevention response, but they can play a critical role in helping people manage tough times, plan for the future and bounce back from adversity. Their connection with people experiencing significant change can be critical, as we know that less than 50 per cent of people who need professional support will actively seek it out.
Noticing changes in the people you work with and deciding to start a conversation can be the first step to getting them the help they need. But how do you start the conversation?
There is no right or wrong way to begin, the main thing is to let the person know what you have noticed and that you want to know if they’re okay.
Give the person an opportunity to talk. Your role is to listen, without jumping in or trying to find solutions for them.
Helping the person take the next step is important. This can be by identifying who else they feel comfortable telling, encouraging them to make an appointment with their GP, doing a ‘mental health check-up’ online, or calling a helpline.
Remember to check back in with the person, either the next day or within a few days, and get some support for yourself if you need it.
Mental health at work
There is a strong reciprocal relationship between work and mental health. On the one hand, there can be a positive influence from work on people’s health and wellbeing, providing financial resources, a sense of purpose and identity and facilitating social connections. However, the workplace can also have a negative impact on our physical and psychological wellbeing.
Some years ago, a report by Beyond Blue and PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed that unsupported mental ill-health in the workplace can have significant and often unforeseen costs to the national economy from absenteeism and presenteeism alike – $4.7 billion per year and $6.1 billion per year respectively. In fact, there is a return on investment of $2.30 for every dollar spent in effective workplace mental health strategies.
The impacts on small businesses can be particularly striking, with research showing that small business owners and workers experience depression, anxiety and stress at levels above the general population. These stresses often come from financial pressures, high work demands and long work hours, along with market variability and disruption, and a tendency not to prioritise self-care over the business bottom line – including many who go to work even when they are sick, stressed and tired.
Financial planners can be both a support to small business and often operate as a small business themselves, so they understand the struggle to take time off during a climate of uncertainty, even when tired and unwell. Industry changes have certainly increased stress and the potential for anxiety, depression and burnout among the profession, so there needs to be a focus on what you can do for clients as well as what you need to do for yourself, and your colleagues.
It can be easy for us to take our mental health for granted. Just as we need to make regular deposits to see a bank balance grow, we need to pay regular attention to our wellbeing in order to flourish. Here are some tips that can help:
Develop workplace relationships: working alone can be isolating, so having friendly interactions throughout the day will help you feel more connected. You can build social relationships with people at work, or with others in similar work to you. Finding someone who can relate to your situation can be helpful.
Celebrate small wins: acknowledge yourself when you do something good. You might have solved an issue for a client or finished a complex job – whatever it is, find a small way to celebrate.
Improve your physical work environment: introducing few small things that make your work environment more pleasant can improve mood and focus, making you more productive too. If you work in an office environment, take breaks from long periods of sitting.
Don’t push yourself: try not to set yourself unrealistic deadlines or agree to take on more than you can reasonably manage. Take breaks and finish work at the agreed time.
Work-life boundaries: try to keep work within certain hours and make time for family and activities you enjoy. Balance in life is important, so prioritising time away from work can make a big difference to how you think and feel.
Respond quickly to issues: if a work-related issue arises, address and resolve it as soon as possible before things snowball and become a bigger problem.
Focus on yourself: take small steps to improve how you think and feel. This includes getting enough sleep and rest, getting exercise and eating well and learning to manage stress.
Increase your awareness of mental health: read up on mental health, complete some training, or watch informational videos.
Reach out for help when you need it: everyone needs support occasionally. Talking to a family member, a friend, another small business owner or your doctor can be a good place to start.
Some useful resources
Ahead for Business is a tailored and interactive digital hub that supports the wellbeing and mental health of small business owners, and those who support them. They provide tip sheets, videos and a confidential online mental health check-up at aheadforbusiness.org.au
The Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance provide practical guidance on creating mentally healthy workplaces, with links to available programs and resources at mentallyhealthyworkplacealliance.org.au
Get support: If you need immediate support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636. Find out about other resources, training and supports at headtohealth.gov.au or www.lifeinmind.org.au
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