How to write an effective mental health policy for your NFP

In 2020, three in five workers in Australia experienced a mental health condition, and while many struggled with lockdowns, work culture, practices and conditions can have a significant positive, or negative affect on our mental health.

When your people are well, your organisation stands to benefit from higher productivity and higher staff retention.

Having a mental health policy for your organisation – to frame mental health initiatives and provide clarity for employees and managers to speak openly and find solutions – can help to set the foundations for good employee mental health, and in turn strengthen your organisation.

Here are five steps to write a mental health policy for your NFP:

1. Communicate your goal or purpose

To start getting buy-in from your organisation’s staff, let them know that you’re writing a policy and why, and invite their ideas for what they’d like to see in it. Making the process a conversation or a co-design process rather than a top-down initiative will help make it relevant and long-lasting.

Some reasons for writing a policy that you might like to include in your communications with staff:

  • To let all staff know what resources are available to support their mental health;
  • To support managers to better handle mental health challenges in their teams;
  • To clarify who is responsible for mental health in their workplace;
  • To encourage openness around communicating about mental health in the workplace; and
  • To create a more mentally healthy place to work for everyone!

2. Do your research

There are literally hundreds of details and initiatives you might want to include in your policy, so as well as asking for input from colleagues, do some research into what specialist organisations recommend.

A good place to start is this detailed sample Psychological Health and Injury Policy (PDF) from the Mental Health Coordinating Council (MHCC).

Other potentially helpful things to read include Developing a workplace mental health strategy: A how-to guide for organisations by Heads Up, the Mentally healthy workplaces toolkit (PDF) from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and the Workplace Mental Health Toolkit (PDF) from Black Dog Institute.

3. Speak to a mental health organisation

Consulting with mental health experts can be invaluable, both for constructing the policy, and for guiding your organisation’s approach to mental health in an ongoing way. Mental health experts can give you insights into best practices and how other organisations approach common challenges around mental health at work.

Some organisations you might like to approach include Black Dog Institute, Head’s Up or organisational mental health specialists Superfriend.

4. Start writing

Once you’ve clarified your policy goals, consulted your colleagues, done some research, and consulted with an expert, you’re ready to start writing your policy.

Some key things to include in your policy:

  • Scope: who this policy applies to, and what it covers;
  • Resources and support available to employees – like an Employee Assistance Program (EAP);
  • The actions your organisation will take to encourage good mental health among team members;
  • What training is available to which staff, and when;
  • Who is responsible for what processes or initiatives, from board and CEO down to managers and individuals; and
  • Links to other relevant policies in your organisation like anti-bullying, anti-discrimination or flexible work policies.

And don’t forget the essential elements of how to write clear and effective policies for your organisation.

5. Communicate your policy and offer training

Research by Beyond Blue (PDF) has shown that 35% of Australian employees either don’t know about, or don’t have access to, organisational policies on mental health. Knowing an organisation’s stance and policies can be the difference between an employee speaking up or staying quiet about their mental health – so it is vital employees know about your policy.

Encourage managers especially to familiarise themselves with the policy to help them when speaking with team members and give them confidence to deal effectively with mental health challenges in their teams.

Finally, consider training for your managers, whether that’s just running through the policy with them and allowing time for questions, or bringing in a specialised mental health training provider to help them understand how to better support their team members when it comes to mental health.

Appendix: Examples of actions you could include in your mental health policy

Here are some actions to encourage good mental health identified (PDF) by the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance that can be implemented in workplaces:

Designing and managing work to minimise harm

  • Provide opportunities for workers to have control over their work schedules such as shift schedules
  • Provide opportunities for workers to be involved in decision-making processes
  • Meet OHS requirements to reduce risks to mental and physical injury

Promoting protective factors at a team and organisational level to maximise resilience

  • Build an organisational culture of flexibility on where, when and how work is performed
  • Provide opportunities for employee participation in organisational level decisions
  • Provide professional development opportunities
  • Provide resource groups to support workers in career management
  • Ensure senior staff engage in mental health promotion and develop a positive team / organisational climate and a psychosocial safety climate
  • Leadership training
  • Ensuring policies and processes are in place to maximise organisational justice
  • Provide training programs for leaders and supervisors including workplace mental health education
  • Implement workplace health promotion programs
  • Promote fair effort and reward structures
  • Ensure that change is managed in an inclusive manner with open and realistic communication

Enhancing personal resilience, generally and for those at risk

  • Provide stress management and resilience training which utilises evidence-based approaches such as CBT
  • Provide stress management and resilience training for those in high-risk jobs
  • Promote regular physical activity at the worksite
  • Provide mentoring and coaching

Promoting and facilitating early help-seeking

  • Consider conducting wellness checks provided there are adequate supports and systems in place first
  • Provide stress management training with a specific focus on CBT
  • Ensure any existing EAP and workplace counselling programs are using experienced staff and evidence-based methods
  • Provide mental health first aid training
  • Consider the role of peer support schemes
  • Ensure policies relating to response to workplace trauma are evidence based and not reliant on routine psychological debriefing
  • Supporting workers’ recovering from mental illness
  • Provide training programs for leaders and supervisors on how to support workers’ recovery
  • Support partial sickness absence
  • Modify job/work schedule/duties where appropriate
  • Support workers on return-to-work and/or those receiving work focused exposure therapy
  • Eliminate discrimination from recruitment
  • Encourage recruitment of individuals engaged in Individual Placement Support programs

Increasing awareness of mental illness and reducing stigma

  • Provide mental health first aid training
  • Conduct regular mental health awareness programs and training
  • Promote mental health related events (e.g. R U OK? Day, World Mental Health Day)
  • Provide access to mental health information and resources
  • Include mental health education in staff induction and people development

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