Roads, rates, rubbish and taming the black dog
  • Monday 10 April 2017
Award win

Breaking the silence and starting conversations about mental health in an innovative program titled FRESHminds has earned Sunshine Coast Council special recognition from Local Government Managers Australia.

FRESHminds won the Workplace Wellbeing category in the LGMA Awards for Excellence presented in Brisbane.

One of the most touching and innovative aspects of the program was a video featuring council employees sharing their mental health stories.

Mayor Mark Jamieson said by improving understanding of mental health and creating a supportive workplace where it is okay to talk, council was actively working to reduce any stigma while also helping staff to better support their colleagues.

“Ultimately, our staff are our greatest asset,” Mayor Jamieson said.

“When we invest in our staff we are actually investing in the health and wellbeing of our Sunshine Coast community.

“Good mental health provides a sense of wellbeing, confidence and self-esteem. When we are mentally healthy we can form positive relationships, use our abilities to reach our potential and deal with life’s challenges.

“However sometimes life can be hard. The day-to-day pressures such as our finances, supporting our family and work stresses can take their toll – both physically and mentally.

“Part of the change that council’s FRESHminds program is trying to effect is having open conversations about mental health.

“The second part is educating ourselves on how to spot the signs of mental illness – in ourselves and each other – and knowing how to respond appropriately.

“Doing this will go some way to creating a workplace, and wider community that is more compassionate and considerate of those experiencing mental health issues.

“We are really proud of our FRESHminds program and recommend the model as it is one that can be easily adapted to other councils and organisations.”

The FRESHminds program was developed based on strategies recommended by the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance. 

The holistic program includes the design and management of work to minimise psychological harm, a suite of training opportunities – ranging from building resilience to suicide intervention, health and fitness programs, confidential access to external counselling providers and a comprehensive awareness campaign. 

Council CEO Mike Whittaker said mental health challenges were no different to the many other illnesses people face.

“We need to remove the stigma  that mental health challenges are ‘untouchable’ ,” Mr Whittaker said.

“We want people feeling safe to talk sensibly about their challenge and everyone  listening, to show their care and support.

“The Sunshine Coast Council has a vision where we want the area to be - Australia's most sustainable region - healthy, smart and creative.

“Having a more sophisticated approach to responding to mental health illness in our Community is a good start to achieving this vision.”

Council’s Human Resources Manager Nick Sheehan said 25% of council’s workforce had voluntarily undertaken mental health-related training through the FRESHminds program since the start of 2015.

“Feedback from staff has been overwhelmingly positive,” Mr Sheehan said.

“We are also encouraged by the results of our recent anonymous staff survey that showed growing satisfaction in council’s support of employee health and wellbeing.”

Photo caption: LGMA Queensland president Cale Dendle, Sunshine Coast Council manager human resources Nick Sheehan, Sunshine Coast Council organisational development consultant Bronwyn Forster, Sunshine Coast Council employment and development coordinator Pam Potter and Champika Roberts and Chloe Costanzo from Queensland Country Health Fund.