Mental health course a lifeline for small business

The Victorian Government has teamed up with St John Ambulance to launch a Mental Health and Wellbeing Program to help businesses doing it tough.

At the best of times, running a business is no walk in the park.

The hours are relentless – there’s always invoicing to do, ledgers to balance, supplies to order and staff to manage, not to mention the time devoted to attracting customers.

Throw in a pandemic and things are more demanding, and certainly more stressful.

Without a doubt, it’s clear the current status quo has presented many mental health challenges for people working in small to medium sized businesses.

That’s why the Business Victoria Mental Health and Wellbeing Program run by St John Ambulance is providing mental health and wellbeing training to staff at local councils, chambers of commerce, business associations and business networks across the state.

The trainees then pay it forward.

The Program will equip them to provide on-the-job mental health and wellbeing support training to local businesses who may have staff or colleagues going through a difficult time.

Meet the mental health trainer

Ricky WakelinRicky Wakelin teaches the St John Action Plan ‘Listen to your head’ (LHEAD) program, running up to two sessions each day throughout the state. He gives attendees the skills to know what to say to colleagues experiencing distress and runs through how to refer colleagues to appropriate services if required, which may include Business Victoria, the Partners in Wellbeing hotline, Beyond Blue and Heads Up.

“I help them get past their barriers in supporting colleagues who may be displaying anger, frustration, irritability or sadness,” Ricky says. “Role play in a training room is invaluable for practising your response, so you’re ready if the situation arises.”

And that situation may arise more commonly than you think, given one in five Australian adults experience symptoms of mental illness during any 12-month period.

The course encourages people to open up about mental health.

“There’s been some movement in reducing stigma associated with mental distress but there’s still such a long way to go, particularly in understanding how to communicate with those who are suffering,” Ricky adds.

Ricky’s top three tips for good mental health at work

  1. If you’re a business owner under stress, don’t stay silent. “You may be experiencing financial stress due to unpredictability of income or uncertainty as to whether your business will survive. Reach out and connect with someone sympathetic, talk about your problems, share your story and your pain: that’s the most necessary ingredient to coping with any sort of mental health crisis or psychological trauma.”
  2. Encourage employees to talk about their feelings. “Talk about mental health, normalise it, and make sure you’re available to really listen to people if they start talking."
  3. Maintain a mental hygiene routine. “Getting enough sleep, following a balanced diet and getting enough exercise are fundamental to ensuring we can cope, but can be easily forgotten by many running their own business."

To find out more about the St John Ambulance Mental Health and Crisis Support training program and other wellbeing support for small businesses in Victoria, go to the Business Victoria website.