University of Wollongong: UOW research collaboration to investigate mental health in the workplace

Mental health concerns have been on the rise, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as greater attention is paid to how the workplace can impact one’s state of mind.

Researchers from the University of Wollongong (UOW) have joined The Mental Health Movement to explore the impact of mental health interventions on important health and economic indicators.

Professor Peter Caputi, the Head of the School of Psychology, is leading the collaboration alongside Emily Keough, a researcher in UOW’s School of Psychology.

Professor Caputi said the collaboration would allow researchers to understand the wellbeing and economic value of mental health training in the workplace.

“Poor mental health is one of the leading causes of employees taking time out of the workplace on sick leave,” Professor Caputi said. “It contributes to absenteeism, presenteeism, lack of productivity and inadequate leadership.

“Australian businesses lose $11 billion annually due to their employees’ poor mental health, because the workers are struggling with stress, anxiety and depression. It is a lose-lose situation.

“The problem is getting worse, with the impacts of COVID-19 both insidious and unavoidable.”

Mental Health Movement, founded by former St George Illawarra Dragons player Dan Hunt and his wife Nadeen Hunt, develops and implements mental health training programs in workplaces to help employers better support their staff, and to help employees better support themselves and their coworkers.

Over the next 12 months, Professor Caputi and Ms Keough will undertake a quantitative evaluation of a series of mental health interventions delivered by the Mental Health Movement within an Australian workplace. They will focus on risk factors, such as sleep and exercise; mental health outcomes, such as depression and anxiety; mental health capabilities, such as support skills and help-seeking behaviours, as well as work outcomes, such as absenteeism, presenteeism and job performance.

The survey will be distributed at the beginning of the 12-month period, and then again six months later to track any behavioural changes overtime.

Dr Alisha McGregor, Research and Development Specialist at The Mental Health Movement, with a PhD in organisational psychology from UOW, said the relationship between the two partners would provide fundamental insight into how workplaces can support their employees while also maintaining work outcomes.

“Unfortunately, there have been very few evaluations of mental health interventions that investigate both mental health and work outcomes,” Dr McGregor said.

“Therefore, the research collaboration between The Mental Health Movement and the University of Wollongong is needed to tackle this growing problem. We are excited to be working alongside Professor Caputi and Ms Keough on this important initiative.”

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