With mental illness and suicide at a continuing high rate over the past decade, the change for positive mental health support can at times feel frustratingly slow. Often the risks and needs for target groups are identified, long before an adequate mix of supports can be delivered. This is where individuals and groups who are empowered to drive positive change in their communities and workplaces can make a considerable difference.
In Australia, research suggests that certain ‘high-risk’ industries have higher rates of suicide, incidence of mental illness and psychological distress – among them is the transport and logistics sector (Monash University, 2018). Understanding which populations of people are at increased risk is just the beginning. Reaching the individuals most in need of support is the real challenge – especially when those individuals may be geographically dispersed and transient in their day-to-day work. Workplace-based peer-to-peer care, has a significant role to play and places mental health care within reach of people who otherwise may not be accessing support for their problems.
For Toll Group, one of Australia’s largest transport and logistics companies, with around 10,000 team members across all states and territories, finding a mental health training program to match their needs was the easy part, but implementing it was not without its challenges. With a strategic vision of improved workforce well-being, and perseverance by key staff, they are now thriving in their delivery of Mental Health First Aid® (MHFA™) Australia training.
When Ruth Oakden, GM Wellbeing at Toll Group talks about their journey with MHFA training, you can hear the passion in her voice. Ruth was one of the key drivers for wellbeing change within the organisation. Leading from the front and inspiring others across Toll who would go on to champion the program.
Ruth first ‘fell in love’ with the Mental Health First Aid model in 2006, when she heard Founder Betty Kitchener, speak during a presentation, as part of a randomised control trial of early MHFA eLearning.
“Every module I reviewed made sense and was better than the last. It blew my socks off as far as mental health training goes. I could see great value in it but was concerned that implementing it within Toll at the time, would be challenging because of the scale. So we had to think about how we might start small.”
GM Wellbeing at Toll Group
As with any big change, incremental achievements helped set Toll Group on their path to a longer-term rollout of the program. They began with some trial sites, but found implementation challenging to begin with. Yet in her day-to-day work with staff around wellbeing and safety, Ruth kept returning to the model when she could. It wasn’t until 2016, Ruth was to implement the program, which she knew to be the right fit for their expansive workforce. They started with some initial sites in Sydney, expanding quickly to Western Australia and then across the rest of Australia.
By the end of 2019, they had a fully functioning MHFA program with high participation and demand from staff. Starting with just one internal Instructor (Ruth herself), the organisation now has six accredited Instructors who can be deployed to different sites to deliver training to staff in all different communities and types of roles.
“I feel like those early years of recognising the need and doing the planning was like preparing the soil, and when we were ready, we were able to plant the tree for MHFA, and from there it has just grown and thrived.”
GM Wellbeing at Toll Group
Like a growing number of workplaces, Toll have recognised that for staff to be safe and supported they must take into account physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing, and provide accessible supports at work. Around 800 staff have trained as MHFAiders®, and the organisation has embedded the program into their wellbeing practices by appointing dedicated MHFA Officers across different sites. They also offer different options for staff to participate in training through the traditional face-to-face course and blended online learning. This flexibility is important in an organisation that has staff working in very different roles, across many different work sites including, offices, distribution centres, mine sites, on the road, at sea and everywhere in between.
“We find our staff who work on the road one of the hardest groups to reach, yet they are also one of our largest workforce groups and one of the most vital for our mental health messages. Given their movements and availability, we’ve had to be more flexible in how we deliver modules to build their skills and knowledge, and how they in-turn access support for themselves,” explains Ruth.
Toll Group also have had to consider the challenges of those staff working in regional, remote and isolated locations such as their maritime workers or those in mining or farming communities, and those in fly-in-fly out (FIFO) or drive-in-drive out (DIDO) roles. An ongoing challenge for these workers, is not just access to training, but access to an MHFA Officer or MHFAider, who can provide support when it is needed. This is something they continue to work on, and expanding their training is key.
It is evident that a lot of time, effort and consideration has gone into Toll Group’s implementation of the program, and that they continue to look for ways to increase reach and impact. When asked about this impact Ruth highlights examples of when the program has aided active intervention with staff members in need.
“It’s a proud moment when you can see staff equipped to deal with a critical situation. That’s why MHFA training is so integral to our wellbeing strategy. Firstly, it is there to help people who are in crisis, and secondly it helps us develop a robust and resilient workplace on a more holistic level. It takes into account staff physical safety alongside their mental well-being.”
Moving forward, Ruth and her team are looking for ways in which they can continue to grow and embed Mental Health First Aid, while focusing on some of the common and topical community issues, such as conversations about suicide, substance abuse, and gambling. The positive thing about MHFA training is the scaffolding it provides to enable these more targeted discussions.
Ruth hopes their experience will inspire other Australian workplaces to step up and implement MHFA training for the benefit of their staff and organisations.
“It’s profound to know that l can stand firm on the quality of the program. The course is the most established, it moves with the times, and it is the benchmark of training. It’s certainly provided us with more value than we have paid for, and it continues to offer returns.”
If you want to be a driver for positive change in your workplace, and support your staff with their well-being, like Ruth and Toll have, find out more here.