The City of Victor Harbor skirts the picturesque coastline of regional South Australia. The local area has a population of around 15,000 residents but at times there is an influx of holiday makers and visitors, almost doubling this number. In any regional community, there is a diverse workforce of people – behind the scenes and on the frontlines – working to ensure that residents and visitors have the public facilities, services and systems they need to thrive and enjoy life. Enter the staff of the City of Victor Harbor – one of MHFA Australia’s Gold Skilled Workplaces.
The staff and volunteers working for the City of Victor Harbor, provide an example of how Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Australia training can lead to improved mental health literacy and support, both across a multi-site workforce and the community.
“As a staff member who has responsibility for supporting community and the vulnerable in our region, this program values the work we do and supports a healthy and vibrant workplace” explains Leann Symonds, Acting Manager Community Services.
Prioritising mental health for staff and community
With a commitment to Workplace Health and Safety, the City of Victor Harbor realised that much of their focus had previously been on physical well-being and safety. It was time to recognise the vital role of mental health for everyone in their community. This meant making mental health education and resources available to as many staff as possible, from their main office to their frontline services, and locations such as their civic centre, library, visitor’s centre, depot and attractions.
The City of Victor Harbor now prioritise mental health in their day-to-day operations and their communications. MHFA Australia training forms part of their induction process and is widely available to staff across the organisation. They have appointed MHFA Officers, and staff are encouraged to participate in refresher training every three years. An example of their internal initiatives has also been the popular inclusion of a well-being article in their monthly Safety Bulletin. Here they have addressed a broad range of topics such as: building healthy workplace relationships, optimism, managing burnout, stemming workplace bullying and talking tips for supporting colleagues.
Resilience during challenging times
This upfront approach to topics that can be otherwise challenging, has been welcomed during a time when staff are experiencing added pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic. The City of Victor Harbor was quick to recognise the impact that additional hours and restrictions would have on staff mental health, workplace morale and the well-being of the community they served. Additional supports and information were made available.
They also saw the importance of additional community connections during challenging times. Locally Elected Members and Service Club members embraced the concept of mental health support – putting their hands up to check on and support vulnerable people during lockdowns and social isolation.
Leann talks anecdotally about the types of issues that staff are experiencing, both during COVID and in general life,
“I have found it to be a mixture of work-related stress, family and personal factors that impact well-being. We have had a heavy workload from responding to the needs of the community in response to COVID, alongside major project work. This has meant sometimes people aren’t taking the time for their well-being.”
Staff may be dealing with issues such as relationship problems, depression, and anxiety. Statistically, these are issues affecting many Australians, at home, work and out in their communities. After participating in MHFA Australia training, the organisation has had more staff accessing supports, such as the Employee Assistance Program or talking with one of their MHFA Officers.
Contributing to total community wellbeing
The City of Victor Harbor has had a specific focus on training and supporting young people in the community through Youth Mental Health First Aid Australia training. In future, they would also like to make provisions for training that supports older people, through their Positive Aging Network.
Overall, there is a sense that Mental Health First Aid has far-reaching benefits for not only participants, but the community at-large. This is a flow on effect, that builds local capacity to respond to the mental health crisis facing our country.
MHFA Australia training programs support the power of peer-to-peer connection and demonstrates that even small actions and conversations can lead to someone getting the support they need.
“The powerful thing you notice is people’s ability to pick up on what is often unseen. Little changes in behaviour, such as someone sitting in their car a little longer after work, eating lunch alone, or not smiling as much. The course empowers anyone with the confidence to start mental health conversations, ‘Hey I noticed this… how are you?’. This can lead to someone telling you about a life changing experience…It’s an opportunity for someone to take that first step towards healing.”
The City of Victor Harbor have now been implementing MHFA training for 4 years. They have seen the return on investment, not just for their workplace, but also the safety net it provides their vibrant community. This has provided an added element of connection and resilience, in both positive and challenging times.
“Beyond the workplace I feel that as a regional area, with most staff living locally, the commitment to MHFA increases total community wellbeing. Everyone from Council to Youth Programs and the Mayor have supported the provision of MHFA.”
Leann Symonds, Acting Manager of Community Services
View the video below to learn more about Mental Health First Aid’s impact on the community from City of Harbor’s Acting Manager of Community Services, Leann Symonds.
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