Catherine Witteveen knows all about suffering in silence.
When the accountant went to her boss to discuss her feelings, she was told to get on with her job.
This all-too-common blind-eye to mental health started a spiral into depression that eventually resulted in Ms Witteveen being fired.
She believes the company’s obsession with money blinded it to their employees’ wellbeing.
“There was absolutely no concept of a human element in there,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do, I felt like I was undermining the company if I said something.”
Now Ms Witteveen is speaking out, demanding employers to see their workers as “human” and to support staff experiencing mental health troubles.
Her call for action was recently echoed by the Mental Health Council of Australia (MHCA), in a plea calling for immediate reform of Australia’s mental health systems.
In one area of their third major submission to the National Mental Health Commission (NMHC), MHCA is stressing greater workplace training in mental health.
As bare “minimum”, initiatives must be implemented by employers to improve work-life balance, job design and stress reduction, according to the MHCA.
MHCA CEO Frank Quinlan believes that our Australia’s “substandard” mental health care has been around a long time.
“Our systems are poorly integrated, overseen by different parts of government and based on widely different principles,” he said.
“We need substantial change, not just tinkering around the edges.”
For Ms Witteveen, this change was as easy as employers just “acknowledging” her problems.
“I used to work at a secondary school and had problems controlling the students,” she said.
“I started experiencing bad depression.”
When Ms Witteveen told management, they responded by assigned a fellow staff member to talk things through, as well as allowing a weekly day off.
“Just talking about it helped me not feel so overwhelmed,” she said.
“They recognised that mental health
issues happen, and can be dealt with.”
Companies like beyondblue, a member of the MHCA, are fighting for employers to act the same.
Beyondblue chairman, former premier Hon Jeff Kennett, is reminding businesses they have a legal responsibility to maintain their staff’s wellbeing.
“OHS legislation requires workplaces to be a healthy environment,” he said. “Many think this to only means physically, but it’s about mental health too.”
In an attempt to promote more understanding workplaces like this, beyondblue have created the “Headsup” campaign.
This national initiative provides information, advice, and free tailor-made healthcare plans for employers.
If you or someone you know suffers from mental health illnesses, beyondblue is available 24/7 to talk on 1300 224 636