The armour: protecting employee wellbeing through mental health training    

Think about four of your colleagues. Now, add yourself to this group. How would you feel knowing that at least one of you has struggled with poor mental health because of work in the last year alone? With one in five employed Australiansi experiencing stress, anxiety or depression stemming from work, creating mentally healthy workplaces is an urgent need.    

In 2022, managing mental health in the workplace is increasingly perceived as a fundamental skill of people leadership in the Australian workplace. There are a vast range of programs in the market, from eLearning sessions to full week training programs. So, what works?

The premise of best-practice-informed mental health training programmes focus on building the capacity of employees to  

  • recognise signs of poor mental health among their peers or team members, 
  • respond appropriately to mental health needs, 
  • refer staff in need of mental health help to suitable support services,  
  • reconnecting and reaching out to vulnerable staff to support their wellbeing,  
  • and ultimately, support employees in recovering from psychological injuries, or episodes of poor mental health.

In addition to training interventions that build a psychologically safe community at work, resilience building training interventions can also enable staff to cope in healthy ways during times of mental stress. The nature of work-related stressors varies across multiple industries. Therefore, customising training programmes to address specific risks within organisations increases the efficacy of these interventions.  

For instance, essential workers within some industries such as retail experienced disproportionately high rates of mental ill health through the Covid-19 pandemic. Based on findings reported by Safe Work Australia, retail workers experienced amongst the highest rates of workplace injury over the last few yearsi. Further, two out of three retail workers appear to have experienced high rates of distress and mental ill health since the onset of the pandemicii. Insecure working conditions, high rates of exposure to aggression from customers, low control over job design, high frequency and constant work-related stress are amongst the leading factors contributing to this state of poor mental health amongst retail workers. 

The Centre for Corporate Health recently conducted a mental health training programme among People leaders at Coles, an Australian supermarket, retail, and consumer services chain. The organisation sought to address the high risk within their industry of workers suffering from mental ill health resulting from workplace stress. To assess the effectiveness of our programme, we surveyed Coles leaders who undertook the training programme before and after their participation, to understand how the programme had benefited them. We found that participants’ confidence in responding and supporting mental health needs among their colleagues improved by over 50%, after having completed the training programme!  

These encouraging preliminary results hold promise as they demonstrate that it is possible to embed mental health supports into the daily lives of Australians. Building key mental health support skills within organisations not only ensures that people who are struggling are supported within their workplaces but also within their communities, where these skills can be transferred into workers’ personal lives. As relentless global circumstances rage on, unleashing uncertainty and triggering anxiety at an unprecedented rate, a simple intervention such as workplace mental health training might ultimately spell the difference between life and death for many in our midst.  

For more information on workplace mental health training, contact the Centre for Corporate Health 02 8243 1500 or admin@cfch.com.au


[i] Beyond Blue, 2014. State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia.

[ii] Superfriend, 2020. Spotlight on the Retail Industry.