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  • Tamar Balkin

R U Ok? How do you actually talk about mental health in life and work?

One in five Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year.

The 12th September in Australia is R U OK Day, the day we are meant to pause think about mental health and check in with our colleagues, friends and family.

Caring about others is certainly not a once a year event, and discussing mental health is certainly not a once a year event.

  • If you stop and  think about it why on earth would anyone they tell you really how they are feeling:

  • If you don’t often chat to your peers employees or colleagues about what is going on in their livesIf there aren’t clear policies and procedures in your organisation around mental health.

  • If you view mental health as always being negative.

  • If people with mental illness are shifted into the shadows and not spoken of.If there are no examples of managing mental health in the workplace. 

  • If people don’t understand that one can flourish with mental illness and can languish without a diagnosed mental illness.

  • If there are no proactive measures to create and maintain a psychologically safe and healthy workplace. If physical safety is compromised. 

  • If there is no culture of comprehensive wellbeing. 

R U OK Day is an annual reminder that EVERY day we need to be thinking about creating environments in life and work where people can flourish.

Keyes framework provides a comprehensive understanding of the complexity of the interaction between wellbeing and mental health. Contrary to popular opinion he explains that:  a person can be languishing without being mentally ill and a person can have a diagnosed mental illness and be flourishing.

What is languishing?  When a person is languishing, they have low levels of subjective wellbeing, they are not feeling good or functioning at their best. They may appear to live life as if they are just be 'going through the motions' . 

What is flourishing?  According to Martin Seligman, a person is flourishing when they have a good life:

"What is the good life? It is pleasant, engaged, meaningful, achieving, and connected".

How can people with a diagnosed mental illness flourish?

I have many friends and clients with diagnosed physical and psychological illnesses ranging from PTSD, Diabetes, Depression, and stroke. They all have university degrees and hold senior roles in national organisations. Many are married with children, and one has written a book in a foreign language in their spare time. They all enjoy life to the full, exercising, going on family holidays etc.. All have  real, and frequent symptoms. Many with mental illness require daily vigilance over their wellbeing, in the same way the diabetic regularly monitors their  insulin and food intake. However what is consistently low for all of them is the impact of their "illnesses" on their lives both inside and outside of work. One joked with me that she missed more time off work when she sprained their ankle at gym than from her intense PTSD flashbacks.  My most concerning conversation was with the client who never told his employer he had had a heart attack at work. It occurred during a lunch break, he was afraid of the stigma and thus he simply messaged that he was unwell and would be back at work soon. 

What are the signs that someone is unwell? 

Quite simply when you notice a change in what someone is saying doing or how they are living their life its appropriate to catch up and see how they are. 

What are your daily responsibilities? 

1. Creating environments in life and work where people can flourish.  2. Notice a change in someone's behaviour and encouraging them to get help.

Australian sources of help

  • Life line – 13 11 14 (24 hours)

  • Mental health crisis team- 1800 011 511 (24 hours)

  • Doctor

  • Employee Assistance Program

  • Clinical psychologist

  • 000

  • RU OK

What can you do today?

  • Educate others that it is possible to flourish with mental illness and languish without mental illness

  • Get to know people so that you actually notice a change in their behaviour.

  • Talk openly about mental illness and life and workKnow where to go for more information and support

  • Prepare for the conversation.

Thank you to my inspirational friends and clients who have shared with me the impact (or lack thereof) of their physical and mental health on their life and work.



Keyes, C.L.M (2005) Mental Illness and or Mental Health? Investigating axioms of the complete state model of health Journal of  Consulting and Clinical  Psychology. ;73(3):539-48 Martin E.P. Seligman, April 2011 Happiness Is Not Enough Flourish: A New Theory of Positive Psychology (Archived Newsletter)

Westerhof, G, J, Keyes C.L.M (2010) Mental Illness and Mental Health: The Two Continua Model Across the Lifespan. Journal Of Adult Development 17(2): 110–119

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