Since I was a small child, the issue of mental health has been around my life. I grew up in a rural area and I heard many stories of young men struggling with stress or relationship breakups who shot themselves. I had an uncle who died by suicide. When I was young, it almost seemed normalised.
But it wasn’t until my career progressed that I realised the scale of mental health challenges went beyond country towns. I began to see people struggling in corporate workplaces. I read the sobering statistics that eight people die by suicide in Australia each day; that suicide is the leading cause of death in men under 40.
Then an experience at work really brought the issue home. An outstanding leader had joined us to help with a project. Tragically, about eight months later, she took her own life. I had spoken to her the day before and she seemed fine.
The impact on those left behind was profound. There was a lot of grief and guilt. It was a tipping point for me to do something.
Greenlight to talk
Mental health and mental fitness are very important at PwC. We’ve realised the size of the problem and we want to be a leader in this space.
One of our commitments is to support innovation. We are joint venture partners with Sydney University in InnoWell, a company that uses technology to transform the delivery of mental health services.
We are also committed to ‘walking the talk’ by making sure we’ve got the policies and programs in place to support our own people.
Recently, we ran a program called Greenlight to Talk, where partners and senior leaders shared stories of their own, or their family member’s, mental health journey.
It sent a message that it’s okay to talk about these things in a professional services firm. If you’ve got anxiety or depression, it’s not something to be ashamed of; in fact, it’s extremely common.
These are the conversations that we’ve got to have, and I’m proud that we – and the broader business community – are starting to have them.
Issue of our time
I know that many other business leaders feel the same need to act. There’s an emerging awareness that mental health is the issue of our time.
I speak with CEOs and senior executives regularly, and I know they really care for their people. The last thing we want as leaders is to have employees feeling stressed, depressed or anxious, or suffer an undiagnosed mental health condition that’s making their lives miserable.
But there’s also a feeling of helplessness among us all about what to do.
There is no magic solution to dealing with mental health. But I’m hopeful that initiatives like Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia become the ‘secret sauce’ that help businesses take that next step.
We’re aiming to start a movement that leads to all employees going to work feeling genuinely cared for, knowing there is support for them in their work life as well as their personal life.
While the Alliance has a strong focus on building workplace mental fitness, it doesn’t shy away from the more complex mental health issues. We spend so much time at work – and now at work remotely – it’s critical that people who are really struggling can get the right care at the right time.
Kristin Stubbins, Partner, PwC
Founding Participant, Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia