Why would a union run a conference about mental health, wellness and mindfulness, IE Journalist Sue Osborne asks.
Many mental health issues arise out of stress in the workplace aggravated by issues such as bullying, overwork and lack of recognition. One in six workers will take time off due to mental health issues. Common issues like depression and anxiety impact on the workplace as well as the individual and their family, costing the economy an estimated $12 billion a year.
The IEU’s Support Staff Conference Work Well held on 21 August in Sydney took a big picture look at what support staff can do to keep themselves well in the workplace.
NSW ACT IEU General Secretary John Quessy said the IEU plays a key role in promoting and supporting the industrial needs and interests on non teaching staff.
Better working conditions contribute to a healthy workplace. The IEU’s Support Staff Advisory Committee, acting on feedback from support staff, decided to extend the Union’s support through this conference.
Keynote speaker Dan Haesler is an educator, writer and presenter who specialises in talking to people about positive psychology.
He entertained the audience with his humorous and enthusiastic look at some of the theory behind what makes us happy, not just in the workplace but in life as a whole.
Dan explored Martin Seligman’s work on positive psychology and his PERMA model. Seligman outlined positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment (PERMA) as the things we need in our life to achieve a healthy mindset.
Martin Seligman is an American psychologist, educator, and author of self-help books. Since the late 90s, Seligman has been an avid promoter within the scientific community for the field of positive psychology.
His theory of ‘learned helplessness’ is popular among scientific and clinical psychologists. He is Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology in the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Psychology.
Seligman has written about positive psychology topics in books such as The Optimistic Child, Child’s Play, Learned Optimism, and Authentic Happiness. His most recent book, Flourish, was published in 2011.
“The whole essence of positive psychology is to recognise what’s going well and build upon that,” Dan said.
“It’s not about being happy all the time, it’s about taking a more positive mindset and being able to address our own wellbeing at home and in the workplace.”
Dan said some innovative schools were looking at providing more meaning to their support staff by including them more in the results of their work.
“If you’ve spent days processing the paperwork for the excursion, perhaps you’d like to go on the excursion and see the results of that in the kids’ faces.
“It’s great that the IEU is addressing something as important as mental wellbeing, given we know workplace mental health can be something of an issue in the education sector.
“The Union is being proactive, rather than just focusing on wages, although that all plays into mental wellbeing as well.
“I think it is really powerful to spend a day just addressing positive psychology and understanding ways to address depression. I highly commend the IEU for taking on this initiative.”
Workshops at the conference addressed a number of issues around the topic. For instance NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association Professional Officer Marc Hopkins discussed depression and mental illness in the workplace and gave participants some important tips on how to approach a colleague suspected of being unwell.