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COVID-19 Helping to Fast Track Destigmatisation of Mental Health Illness in Automotive Businesses

An important webinar run by the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA) has shed light on mental health during COVID-19, with signs the pandemic is helping to break down barriers around mental illnesses in the automotive industry and across society.

COVID-19 has tested how well-prepared businesses are to support staff with their mental health. While many understand the impact the workplace can have on people’s mental health, and conversely, how mental health illnesses can impact productivity and relationships at work, many business managers and team leaders don’t have the tools, strategies and confidence to best manage mental health issues and create a mentally healthy workplace.

As part of the AAAA’s commitment to mental health support of the automotive aftermarket industry, the peak body for 30,000 automotive businesses arranged a special presentation from Beyond Blue, with contribution from GPC Asia Pacific and Bapcor representatives.  The webinar provided insights and advice so that business owners, managers and employees can achieve meaningful change for the betterment of their workplaces.

Facilitated by AAAA CEO, Stuart Charity, this member exclusive webinar featured three stand-out speakers on mental health in the workplace:   Michael O’Hanlon, Workplace Engagement Manager at Beyond Blue, Aileen Hayes, Executive General Manager People and Culture, GPC Asia Pacific and Alison Laing, Executive General Manager – Human Resources, Bapcor.

Stuart Charity said the mental health webinar was an important presentation for the industry. 

“Changes in how society, workplaces and individuals view and deal with mental health issues is going to be a continual process over many years, but we are encouraged by the changes we are seeing.

“This webinar was full of fantastic, thought provoking ideas and strategies for our members who took part to learn and develop themselves. The insights from Michael, Alison and Aileen were relatable and clear and I thank them for their contributions. As the leader of the AAAA team, there were learnings I have taken away that can assist our team as we live through these challenging times,” said Stuart.

From Beyond Blue, Michael shared that the organisation had seen a significant increase in the number of calls to their helpline and visits to their website resources this year. Other mental health support organisations have seen similar trends. Although these increases certainly underscore the challenging times we are facing, they also indicate that people are increasingly likely to seek help, which is a big change from previous years and catastrophic events.  It appears that COVID-19 is serving to fast-track a significant increase in awareness, understanding and normalisation of mental health illness.

Interestingly the usage of helplines has been even across demographics, with men and women across a range of ages reaching out for advice. This is a positive shift, showing that a historically less active but high-risk cohort of men 25-40 are now seeking help to achieve and maintain good mental health. Further, they are also now more likely to share their experience with colleagues as a way of supporting others.

Michael also emphasised that for small business owners and managers, getting to know employees is more important than ever. Even small inroads in this domain can make a profound difference for employees and break down barriers that can more easily enable conversations around mental health.  

Alison and Aileen agreed with this recommendation, stating that a key to successfully supporting team members with mental health is to ‘get to know your people’. The closer working relationships seen in smaller business settings allow managers to identify changes in behaviour and demeanour and perhaps more easily enable them to ask ‘are you ok?’. This can lead to a supportive conversation that can help resolve issues or the employee can be guided toward professional help services.

Both HR experts shared that you don’t need to be a mental health expert or psychologist to provide support that is helpful and relevant. Providing contact details for Beyond Blue or other organisations such as LifeLine and The Black Dog Institute, allows you to refer your staff member to an expert quickly and easily.

Aileen advocated that all businesses should visit Beyond Blue’s website. “Businesses of any size can benefit from the fantastic free resources provided by Beyond Blue,” she said. Such resources help business owners and managers to carefully step through conversations that they may be nervous about with some confidence and peace of mind.

Alison and Aileen shared that they have seen an increase anxiety across their organisations because of uncertainty about the future, corresponding with an increased usage of their respective employee assistance program hotlines. While everyone is impacted by the pandemic, everyone’s experience of it is different. “Across society depending on businesses, roles and locations, people seem to be overwhelmed with some working harder than ever before or for others having no work,” said Alison.

“We will continue to promote mental health across the industry through our communication channels, member services such as webinars and our Employer Assist hotline, stated Stuart Charity. “The importance of this issue can’t be underestimated.”

This AAAA mental health member webinar forms a small part of the Associations’ support to members and the aftermarket industry throughout these challenging times. We offer a dedicated COVID-19 resource centre, Employer Assist and Legal hotlines, and powerful business management and growth tools. Members have access to our Advocacy team for regulatory issues affecting their businesses, and we continue to fight for the industry by championing mandatory data sharing.

AAAA Members can view the Webinar Presentation and Resource Downloads HERE

Mental Health Resources

Beyond Blue 1300 224 636

LifeLine 13 11 14

The Black Dog Institute

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