Depression is among one of the leading causes of disability worldwide affecting approximately 280 million people around the globe. Let that number sink in for a bit…
280 million people.
Considering all the stars visible in all directions around Earth, the most generous estimates say there are less than 10,000 visible stars to the naked eye. But 280 million people suffer from this physically and mentally debilitating condition. And these symptoms don’t just switch off when we walk into work.
In addition to the significant personal consequences associated with depression, the economic impact for employers can be considerable.
Here are some more numbers for you to think about: The average cost of depression is between $17 billion to $44 billion per year to employers in the US alone. And other studies have found similar trends across a diverse range of countries.
As an employer there are plenty of initiatives you can implement to support your employees’ mental health at work: In-house workshops, webinars, supporting National or International awareness days, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), flexible working arrangements, as well as upskill training for line managers and senior leaders. But have you ever thought about implementing a workplace peer support program?
What is a workplace peer support program?
Peer supporters are carefully selected, trained, and supervised co-workers, who can provide basic support and mental health first aid for their colleagues. We spend a third of our lives with our colleagues, which means they’re in a prime position to notice changes and become the first point of contact when mental health issues arise.
Peer support is a valuable addition to traditional professional support services. A peer offers the unique insight as someone who may have lived experiences of either mental illness and recovery, or knowledge of the difficulties of the work pressures a colleague may be under. These insights allow them to understand, support, and above all model a sense of hope in ways not always achievable through traditional therapeutic means.
Peer support programs aren’t exclusively for those who are seriously ill or have a diagnosis of a mental illness. If someone is struggling with work, relationships, or everyday stressors in their life, a peer supporter can help them find the resources to manage their overall wellbeing.
Benefits of developing a workplace peer support program
A peer support program can be an important contributor to a psychologically safe workplace, building a resilient team of employees who understand and support each other – reducing absenteeism and increasing a sense of self-worth across your workforce. Other benefits of these programs include:
- Reducing the stigma and increasing help-seeking behavior within the workplace.
- Peers can clarify and champion your workplace wellbeing initiatives.
- Peers understand the work and the business because they work there too.
- Peers may be more available and approachable to talk to than a manager or leader, making it easier to reach out and support early intervention.
Examples of workplace peer support programs
So, what does a good peer support program look like? We spoke to three of our Endorsed Employers to discuss how they’re promoting peer-to-peer support in their workplace.
Michelle Hargreaves (She/her), Recruitment and Sourcing Team Lead at Downer shares about the Mental First Aiders that form their network of peer support.
“Mental Health First Aid Training is an externally accredited program by Mental Health First Aid Australia. It is a one-and-a-half-day program offered to all [Downer] employees. Individuals become accredited Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) and internal peer supporters. Topics covered within the training include depression; anxiety; psychotic illness; substance use disorders; multiple crisis scenarios such as suicide, panic attack, critical incident management and aggressive behaviors.”
MHFA are just one of many layers of safety, mental health, and wellbeing support available to all employees across Downer.
Arabella Ollerenshaw (she/her), Senior Diversity, Inclusion & Wellbeing Advisor at Transgrid shares about their Workmates Peer Support Program.
“Physical and psychological safety is always Transgrid’s first priority. Our approach was recognized in 2021 when Transgrid was awarded the Allan Fels Mental Health Award from the Australian Human Resources Institute for the Best Mental Health Program. A key component is Transgrid’s Workmates Peer Support Program. Volunteer employees are trained to assist colleagues who are struggling. The program offers employees a safe space to talk and encourages them to reach out for help when they need it. By understanding the range of professional services Transgrid offers, Workmates can recommend appropriate steps that a colleague can take to optimize their mental health and seek professional help where necessary. In return, we support our Workmates with ongoing training and recognition.”
At Transgrid, there’s nothing more important than staying safe at work.
Sarah Lambley (she/her), Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging at Telegraph Media Group shares about their Mental First Aid & Wellbeing Champions.
“We have over 100 trained Mental Health First Aiders to support employees in confidence. We also have Mental Health and Wellbeing Champions in teams across the organization. Our Wellbeing Employee Network works with the organization to support the physical, mental and financial health of our employees. The network runs a number of events throughout the year such as Wellbeing Week and Mental Health Awareness Week.”
Telegraph Media Group takes the wellbeing and mental health of their employees seriously and provides a full range of support and service.
Depression isn’t the only mental health issue employees may be dealing with and peer support isn’t exclusively for employees suffering from ill mental health. A successful and well-implemented peer support program should support staff with all stressful or upsetting circumstances, or everyday stressors in their life.
“No darkness lasts forever. And even there, there are stars” – Ursula K. Le Gavin