We are proud to announce Camille Wilson, Founder of Grow Together Now as one of our latest ANZMH Association ambassadors.
Find out more about Camille in our Q&A, including her experience, challenges and successes in mental health.
Q: Why is workplace mental health/wellbeing important to you and what made you want to become active in this space?
A: I have been passionate and dedicated to mental health since I was quite young. It was only at the tender age of 16 years old that I remember sitting in front of my childhood GP being uttered and prescribed the words “Major Depression”. To me, my teenage years blur between trying to figure out if what I was feeling was normal to going through a recovery process and coming out of it passionate to change the face of mental health for young people.
At this age, I really had no idea that stigma existed and that the challenge ahead was going to be a difficult one. It was almost as though I lived in this bubble thinking mental health was known and understood by all those who were older than me (as any teenager thinks!). It was until I entered into a Bachelor of Psychology that I started to understand and witness the scope in which stigma of mental health really existed and how this, in turn, impacts those who were just like me suffering every day. In my studies, I was also fortunate to learn about the concepts in organisational psychology where I learned the workplace were in face on of the biggest triggers that can make or break a mental health disorder. So, there I was, 21 years old, deciding that instead of pursuing a clinical career to help people once they’ve reached the doctor’s office, I wanted to instead play a preventative role to avoid people getting there in the first place by becoming a human resources professional.
This passion into mental health ebbed and flowed throughout my career in my early 20’s and I got lost in the commercial world of HR – performance reviews, restructuring, recruitment, etc. I left mental health behind for a few years and it wasn’t until in 2017, when I became unwell again, that I remembered why I started working in HR in the first place. After having to leave the workforce in early 2018 as my recovery wasn’t allowing me to go back full time to my job, I was forced to think of an alternative career that I could support my mental health but still see out my vision. This is where Grow Together Now begun.
Grow Together Now is a social start-up that is dedicated to changing the way we see mental health in workplaces and within our community of schools. I founded Grow Together Now in mid-2018 after I had spent 12 months prior recovering from severe generalised anxiety disorder. At the time I was unwell, I was working for a large bank in Australia and, although they did their best to support me, I noticed that at the end of the day that there was a huge gap between what I was going through and how they thought they could support me. The perspective gap was real, and I am on a mission to bring this gap through education.
Q: How do I do this?
A: As part of my mission to change the way we see mental health in the workplace so that treatment can be accessed sooner and in a safer way, I am proud of provide a multiple-tiered approach in workshops for workplaces to deliver. The workshops address the multiple challenges that workplaces face – from imagining mental health to address the stigma, to that of becoming more aware of mental health and courageous enough to be the person to start making change in the workforce.
In addition to this, I’ve always been an avid writer, mostly for personal enjoyment, and have in 2019 launched a number of series of articles, The Hard Truth and Here’s a Crazy Idea, that challenge and question our understand of mental health and bring a humanising effect to the conversation through the art of creative writing. These series both address mental health in a unique way and are bringing a new light to the space.
Q: Becoming an Ambassador
A: Finally, as part of my mission to spread the word of mental health, I am really proud to be able to be an ambassador for the Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Association. Their mission of bringing together consumers, carers and leaders, to educate, is a mission closely aligned to mine. The education through the variety of conferences that they run each year is a powerful way to change the face of mental health and share the successes that we are having across Australia and New Zealand. Each conference uniquely touches on a different square of mental health, bringing a well-rounded and holistic approach to educate our different communities.
In particularly, the conference that resonates with me the most is the Workplace Mental Health Symposium, which is debuting this year in September 2019 at the Mercure in Brisbane. I feel absolutely privileged to be apart of this day, where you’ll see speakers challenging a real and tangible variety of concepts that workplaces are being challenged in the workplace with mental health. From peer-support networks, to industry-specific, to showcasing some of the work that is creating a huge impact, is only a snapshot of what one will expect to see on the day.
Q: What do you think should companies do to create more mentally healthy workplaces?
A: A loaded question! There are so many ways in which a company can be addressing how mentally health their workplace is. Before anything else, the absolute key thing to acknowledge is that when it comes to the workplace and how psychologically safe it is, there are a number of layers in which you can view it by.
A lot of the time when we look at a workplace and we try to figure out “how mentally healthy is it”, we tend to do a type of checklist activity to see if we have mental health first aiders, access to an employee assistance program (EAP), and some flyers on the noticeboard on how to call Lifeline or Beyond Blue. Each of these, though, aren’t looking to solve why an employee has mental health issues and if anything in the workplace is making it worse. These solutions are quick and easy, but they don’t find a root cause, they don’t question whether the workplace itself is actually mentally healthy. But, in the mindset of many leaders, you’ve ticked the boxes, you’ve done the job.
This is where organisations are severely going wrong. It is any statistic that you read, mental health is becoming a growing issue, and the current solutions for it in the workplace are not working.
So, what then? What can workplaces start doing? Firstly, before implementing or brainstorming ideas on the solution, an organisation really needs to understand what is going on for their employees – not the employees at their competitor, or the employees in the building next door – their employees. I don’t believe that mental health is ever going to be a cookie cutter solution, which is why companies struggle with it and why solution offerings aren’t scaling. If an organisation really wants to address mental health, they need to begin to understand what is going on for their employees. If they can do this, they will be 5 steps in front to really address the mental health of their employees.
For example, are your employees overworked? Are they working ridiculous hours? Of the work they are doing, is it meaningful work? Are your employees feeling inspired to work for your organisation? Are there healthy relationships amongst your teams? Are positive experiences in the workplace happening and then being shared? Are your employees coming to work, thinking, Yeah, I like coming here?
Once you can understand what matters to your employees, this is when you can begin creating a mentally safe place to work. Of course, every organisation is going to need the basics – trusting relationships, open communication, safe ways to speak up, but how you implement them and what you use to integrate these into the culture will depend on who your employees are.
Ideas that many organisations could being to consider incorporating are peer support networks, mental health first aid, safe conversations, awareness of mental health, and building real relationships across the workforce. But, each of these solution will impact your workforce differently, and knowing who your employees are is your first step to understanding this.
How can teams support each other at work?
In the modern world, the importance of meaningful relationships is becoming underrated in a world of technology and social media. As a society, we are becoming quite accustomed to messaging someone instead of calling someone, and instant messaging them on your laptop instead of getting up and walking to their desk. Teams can begin supporting each other by becoming more than just a team member that sits somewhere around them at work. Understand each other, know what is important to one another, and be cognisant of this as you reach out to them and provide support. We are all so different and unique as humans. My experience and perception of life and work will be very different to the team member sitting next to me, and I am not going to know how to provide them support unless I know who they are as an individual.
To do this though, what workplaces need to ensure is a safe and trusting culture. It is wired in us…people won’t be honest and speak up about what is important to them unless they feel safe to do so. Implement initiatives that encourage genuine storytelling between one another, have leaders start the trend and open up about their own stories, and allow time to do its magic. It won’t happen overnight, but it is an absolute starting point for team members to feel safe and supported at work.
What can people do to better deal with work related stress and avoid burnout?
Similar to the above, I think it is really important for team members to feel safe to speak up to their leaders when something isn’t sitting right with them – this includes when employees feel the stress becoming too much and starting to feel worn out. Many of us think that speaking up equates to “being weak” or “not being good enough”, but this isn’t the case at all. The working world is fast-paced, deadlines are tight, and we are suddenly feeling under the pump, but your leader cannot do anything about it unless they know about it themselves. So, firstly, the first important step is to be open and start having a real conversation with your leader.
Following this, there are many smaller things that are within the control of the employee to start creating the boundaries they need to avoid burnout. For instance, you can aim to both reduce or remove parts of your life that trigger stress and increase or add parts of your life that work to improve stress management.
For example, if you were to remove a stress trigger, turning off your emails completely after a certain time will help reduce the addition of unnecessary mental stress. Not only does checking emails late at night affect our minds to switch off, but the blue light from our phones and laptops also heavily impact our ability to get our much-needed REM sleep for memory consolidation. Set your boundaries and be clear about those boundaries with those around you. Make sure you allow yourself the opportunity to stick to them as well – for example, setting up a manual alarm clock next to your bed instead of using your phone.
In addition, you can also apply the technique of stress management, you may work to improve your ways of managing work-place related stress. This may involve going to yoga classes, learning mindfulness and meditation practices, and/or using exercise as a tool to improve mental health.
By incorporating both these techniques, as well as being open and honest to your leaders and workplace, can help to create a healthy set of boundaries for you at work, as well as improve your ability to be agile to that of comes your way.