Why improving mental wellbeing is important for health and wellbeing

Mental health is an essential ingredient of individual and community wellbeing and significantly contributes to the social, cultural and economic life of Victoria. Each year, one in five Victorians will experience a mental health condition, with 45 per cent of Victorians experiencing that in a lifetime (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008).

Certain population groups are at higher risk of poor mental health and mental illness because of greater exposure and vulnerability to unfavourable social, economic and environmental circumstances, including social isolation and loneliness. Feeling connected to others, being able to cope with the usual stresses of life, having the opportunity and capacity to contribute to community and being productive are all critical to mental health. Mental health conditions overlap considerably with chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancers, alcohol and substance misuse, and problem gambling. These various groups of conditions share numerous risk factors, are risk factors for each other, and frequently co-occur.

What we want to achieve

  • A reduction in the prevalence of mental illness, and increased resilience among Victorian individuals, families and communities
  • Reductions in the gap in social and emotional wellbeing for at risk groups, including Aboriginal Victorians, with an emphasis on loneliness and increasing social connectedness
  • Reductions in the occurrence of suicide deaths, suicidal ideation and suicidal attempt, and the gap between the suicide rates for vulnerable groups and the general population

This page includes links to evidence-based guidance to assist partners in the implementation of actions to improve mental wellbeing in the community across a range of settings.

  • Suicide prevention

    There is a strong and concerted effort underway to reduce suicide in Victoria. The Victorian Government's strategic approach to suicide prevention involves five key objectives: build resilience, support vulnerable people, care for the suicidal person, learn what works best and help local communities to prevent suicide.

    In helping local communities to prevent suicide the Victorian Government is partnering with Primary Health Networks to trial a coordinated approach to suicide prevention, implemented at a local community level. Engagement with Aboriginal communities and exploring the particular issues for Aboriginal people is an important component of suicide prevention work in Victoria.

    An effective local public health approach is fundamental to suicide prevention. All settings and sectors have a key role in implementing local suicide prevention strategies. This will depend on effective partnerships across all sectors including health, social care, education, the environment, housing, employment, the police and criminal justice system, transport and the voluntary sector.

    Resources and further details on suicide prevention activity being implemented in metropolitan and regional Victoria are available here:

  • Actions in early childhood settings and schools

    By using a whole-of-organisation approach that includes staff, students, families and the wider community, early childhood services and schools are ideally placed to improve health behaviours which can help prevent chronic disease, support better learning outcomes and set children and adults up with healthy habits for life. Early childhood services and schools are also workplaces and have a valuable opportunity to positively influence healthy behaviour of the people who spend time there (refer to guidance for workplaces).

    The Achievement Program provides guidance and support for education settings to become healthier places for their communities. The program is a free initiative that identifies evidence-based actions to create healthier places, provides links to best-practice resources and case studies, and provides Victorian government recognition once applicable standards have been met.

    Evidence-based actions that early childhood services or schools can take to improve mental wellbeing in the community and become a healthier place include:

    Support or deliver initiatives that promote and build youth resilience

    Resilience, the ability to cope and thrive in the face of negative events, challenges or adversity, is an important protective factor for mental health and wellbeing. Improving children's resilience helps them to deal with the adversities they experience during childhood and provides a foundation for developing skills that enable them to deal with later adversities. Opportunities to build youth resilience may include:

    • Educate children and parents about resilience
    • Provide effective parenting advice and support
    • Provide positive encouragement and positive relationships within educational settings
    • Create opportunities within early childhood services and schools for positive experiences
    • Create opportunities for children to participate in healthy risk-taking

    Resources on this topic include:

    Provide a healthy physical environment that supports mental health and wellbeing

    Mental health affects every part of school life - from academic achievement to student engagement and staff morale. It is important to create positive environments that build resilience, encourage inclusivity and help everyone participate at every level. Early childhood services and schools can create and maintain positive environments that promote mental health by:

    • Providing play equipment and furniture that enables active participation for every student.
    • Incorporating student's ideas and interests when creating inviting play and work spaces.
    • Considering the diversity and cultural practices of the community when planning physical activity opportunities to cater to their varied needs, interests and abilities and make the school/service welcoming through décor, signage and visible recognition of cultural diversity.
    • Ensuring there are relaxing spaces for students to quietly play or rest and create a special place where students can go if they need to calm down or need a break from others.
    • Providing a physical space in the classroom to promote group work and collaboration, interactive activities and floor work.
    • Ensuring there are suitable spaces for staff and families to discuss private matters.

    Resources on this topic include:

    Embed a respectful and inclusive culture within your school or service, including support for mental health and wellbeing

    Positive, respectful behaviours include interacting with care, empathy and respect, responding positively to diversity and fairness, and developing an understanding of reciprocal rights and responsibilities. This helps to build inclusive and safe school communities to support everyone's wellbeing and improved learning outcomes. Actions that early childhood services and schools can take include:

    • Create a welcoming environment for all students and their families.
    • Be mindful of creating an environment that promotes gender equity and is free of gender stereotypes. Support staff and students to become aware of unconscious gender bias.
    • Encourage respectful relationships. Talk about feelings with students and show how these can be expressed in a positive manner.
    • Celebrate a range of cultural events, which can support a cultural and Aboriginal perspective in the educational program.
    • Ensure families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can access and understand the school/service policies.

    Resources on this topic include:

    Support staff and students to have access to resources and support for their own mental health and wellbeing

    For most people, mental health issues emerge when they are young - half of all mental disorders emerge by the time people are 14 years old and three quarters by 25 years old - the same period when most people are in education. Steps an early childhood service or school can take to support staff and student's mental health and wellbeing include:

    • Provide visual displays from organisations where families might go to for advice or support.
    • Participate in programs that support mental health and wellbeing, such as Be You.
    • Ensure the school/service has established clear student support procedures and pathways for referring students to appropriate internal/external health professionals. This should include a plan for students returning to school after time away (for example, from serious medical illness or mental health illness).
    • Respond swiftly to any reports of bullying, discrimination or harassment.

    Resources on this topic include:

  • Actions in local government

    Local government is ideally placed to develop, lead and implement local policies to influence many determinants of health. These policies include actions in areas such as transport, roads, parks, waste, land use, housing and urban planning, recreation and cultural activities and creating safe public places.

    Local government is also a major employer in many communities (refer to guidance for workplaces).

    Under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008, local councils are required to protect, improve and promote public health and wellbeing within their municipality and prepare a municipal public health and wellbeing plan (MPHWP) every four years.

    Local government has a broad role in health promotion, the provision of health services such as immunisation, early childhood services, services for older people and other services such as libraries.

    Evidence-based actions that local government can take on improving mental wellbeing in the community include:

    Embed a respectful and inclusive culture within your organisation and the community

    Key social determinants for mental health include social inclusion and freedom from violence and discrimination. Policies and programs designed to promote a sense of belonging, increase awareness and acceptance of diversity, prevent violence and build community resilience can all make a significant contribution to mental wellbeing. Actions and programs to facilitate a culture of respect and inclusion may include:

    • Develop a whole-of-council approach to preventing violence against women that aims to promote gender equality across all local government domains.
    • Encourage respectful relationships between staff and community members.
    • Develop a policy on cultural diversity that embeds diversity into all council functions and activities.
    • Ensure culturally and linguistically diverse communities can access and understand local government policies.
    • Hold information sessions with local Aboriginal communities to provide opportunities for meaningful participation and engagement.
    • Consider cultural land based Healing Spaces in bushland to create opportunities to run groups and engage in cultural connections for men, women, boys and girls.
    • Celebrate a range of cultural events, which can support a cultural and Aboriginal perspective in the local cultural program.
    • Build greater community understanding of mental health and mental distress and loss of wellbeing.
    • Respond to any reports of bullying, discrimination or harassment swiftly.

    Resources on this topic include:

    Provide a range of local options for community participation and social connection

    Social connection and having the opportunity and capacity to contribute to community can be a protective factor that promotes and protects good mental health and wellbeing. Family and social connections can also influence how well people recover from mental illness. Because of their strong connections to the community, local councils play an important role in bringing people together. For example, local councils could:

    • Identify groups at risk of social isolation and facilitate their participation in social activities in a range of recreational and cultural settings.
    • Make full use of existing social infrastructure (for example, libraries, neighbourhood houses) to create connective networks in community.
    • Support and deliver community events that encourage social connection through delivery of services, information, programs and festivals.
    • Support community organisations and clubs, including sports, arts and recreation organisations to be welcoming and inclusive for all groups.
    • Improve residents' access to the natural environment through appropriate planning, provision and maintenance of open spaces for residents to use and enjoy.

    Resources on this topic include:

  • Actions in health and human services

    Health and human services are key players in the Victorian prevention system. The healthcare system encompasses many skilled professionals who are uniquely positioned to encourage and support Victorians to adopt healthy behaviours. Health and human services are also major employers in many communities (refer to guidance for workplaces).

    Hospitals and health services are also encouraged to consider the benefits of implementing a comprehensive approach to employee health and wellbeing by participating in the Achievement Program.

    Evidence-based actions that a health or human service can take to improve mental wellbeing in the community and become a healthier place include:

    Embed a respectful and inclusive culture within your service, including support for mental health and wellbeing

    Policies and programs designed to promote a sense of belonging and increase awareness and acceptance of diversity can make a significant contribution to the mental wellbeing of patients, their families and staff. Actions and programs to facilitate a culture of respect and inclusion in health and human services may include:

    • Provide an environment that supports mental health and wellbeing, such as offering relaxing spaces for patients and their families to rest or take a break.
    • Encourage respectful relationships between patients, families and staff.
    • Ensure there are suitable spaces for staff to discuss private matters.
    • Ensure patients, families and staff from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can access and understand policies and supports.
    • Enhance opportunities for volunteer engagement and management in the service.
    • Build a culture that fosters staff mental health that includes: monitoring workloads and working hours, clarifying job roles and expectations, fostering an open culture for staff to discuss work stressors with their managers, and ensuring a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment.

    Resources on this topic include:

    Support patients and staff to access mental health and wellbeing supports and refer them to appropriate agencies to seek advice, support and information

    Each year, one in five Victorians will experience a mental health condition, with 45 per cent of Victorians experiencing that in a lifetime. Steps a health or human service could take to support the mental health of patients, their families and staff may include:

    • Outline the organisation's commitment to supporting those with mental health illness.
    • Develop a resource of local mental health and wellbeing supports and services.
    • Provide visual displays of where families might go to for advice or support and participate in programs that support mental health and wellbeing.
    • Support staff with mental health conditions by tailoring work plans that help them stay or return to work.
    • Provide awareness, resources and training to staff (that is, mental health first-aid).

    Resources on this topic include:

    Support and provide a holistic approach to health in terms of mental health and physical health and illness

    Mental health conditions overlap considerably with chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancers, alcohol and substance misuse, and problem gambling. These various groups of conditions share numerous risk factors, are risk factors for each other, and frequently co-occur. In addition, chronic mental illness is associated with poorer outcomes for most chronic physical illnesses. Health and human services could consider:

    • Integrating efforts to prevent and manage mental and physical health conditions by focusing on overlapping risk and protective factors.
    • Developing and implementing policies and procedures in collaboration with clinicians, local GPs and consumer and carer representatives, to provide locally appropriate and integrated services to holistically address mental and physical healthcare needs.

    Resources on this topic include:

  • Actions in workplaces

    Workplaces offer unique opportunities to promote health and wellbeing and create healthy working environments for staff in the places they spend most of their time. Creating a healthy workplace can be complex but there are areas where a few vital behaviour changes can have a major impact and will help staff participate, be well, be more productive and contribute to the community. Healthy workplaces help staff make healthier choices and improve the overall culture of organisations.

    The Healthy Workplaces Achievement Program provides guidance and support for workplaces to become healthier places for their employees. The program is a voluntary, free initiative that identifies evidence-based actions to create a healthy place, links members to best-practice resources and examples, supported by local experts to support workplaces on their journey and provides Victorian Government recognition once these standards have been met.

    Evidence-based actions that a workplace can take to improve mental wellbeing and become a healthier place include:

    Embed a respectful and inclusive culture within your workplace, including support for mental health and wellbeing

    Improving workplace participation and increasing social inclusion can increase wellbeing and productivity. Mentally healthy workplaces have a positive workplace culture, help staff manage stress, support people with mental health conditions and have a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination.

    For example, workplaces could:

    • Provide a healthy working environment that supports mental health and wellbeing, such as offering flexible work arrangements where possible.
    • Encourage respectful relationships between staff.
    • Ensure there are suitable spaces for staff to discuss private matters.
    • Be mindful of creating an environment that promotes gender equity and is free of gender stereotypes. Support staff to become aware of unconscious gender bias.
    • Ensure staff from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can access and understand workplace policies and supports.

    Resources on this topic include:

    Support staff to access mental health and wellbeing supports and refer them to appropriate agencies to seek advice, support and information

    Providing resources, support and information increases staff knowledge and skills to improve their mental health and wellbeing.

    For example, workplaces could:

    • Outline the organisation's commitment to supporting those with mental health illness.
    • Develop a resource of local mental health and wellbeing supports and services for staff, including the organisation's employee assistance program if available.
    • Provide visual displays of where families might go to for advice or support and participate in programs that support mental health and wellbeing, such as Be You.
    • Respond to any reports of bullying, discrimination or harassment swiftly.

    Resources on this topic include:

    Prioritise mental health and wellbeing in the workplace through access to resources, funding and knowledge sharing

    Promote positive mental wellbeing in Victorian workplaces

    Protect the mental health of all staff, promote wellbeing, and support staff with mental health conditions

    The workplace is an ideal setting to promote mental health and wellbeing, as Victorian employees spend approximately one third of their adult lives in the workplace. When employers control risk from work-related factors that can impact the mental health and wellbeing of their employees, and promote wellbeing more generally, employees can continue to contribute positively to the workplace, home and wider community.

    Rather than a focus on risks, promoting positive mental health in the workplace advocates a focus on opportunities, strengths and resources.

    For example, workplaces could:

    • Using WorkSafe Victoria's WorkWell Toolkit, a voluntary online toolkit, employers can take a step by step approach to promoting mental health and preventing mental injury in the workplace using tailored tools and information.
    • Drawing upon SuperFriend's Promoting Mental Health in the Workplace, Guidelines for Organisations, organisations can implement practical, actionable strategies to help employees, managers and senior leaders reach their potential and drive optimal organisational performance. These strategies may relate to leadership, communication, job design, and balancing work and life demands.

    Resources on this topic include: