An untapped resource: mental health champions

Every year Kevin Figueiredo is responsible for keeping 190,000 Australians safe. That means reducing the usual physical, chemical and environmental hazards.

Increasingly, though, mental illness is becoming a focus.

Figueiredo is not running a psychiatric ward or crisis centre. As general manager of safety, health and wellbeing at the Woolworths Group, he is on the frontline of a workplace battle that’s been lost for too long.

But Woolworths, like a number of companies, has now made mental wellness its number one safety priority.

One in five Australians has faced challenges with mental health, according to widely accepted research. Eight Australians every day take their own lives. Suicide Prevention Australia estimates that 370,000 Australians think about ending their life every year.

Executives like Figueiredo see the anguish of suicide and its ramifications in the workplace. They see how mental illness can be hidden yet eat away insidiously at workmates and friends until often it is too late to save someone.

The one-in-five figure for mental health issues is one thing, but many people across the community also know someone who has taken their own life.

At Woolworths, that’s potentially tens of thousands of people with firsthand experience of the pain as well as the ways to survive life’s challenges. And, given the chance, they are ready to help others.

‘We need to change the conversation and celebrate those with lived experiences,’ Figueiredo says.

‘To my mind, they are champions of mental wellness.’

Woolworths has begun to appoint mental health first-aiders in some business units. It will soon offer online training for team members and leaders in mental health first-aid and suicide prevention.

Lifeline is working with the corporate sector and other mental health groups to develop a template for mental wellness in the workplace. It is not only the right thing to do but, especially for businesses big and small operating in higher risk communities, it is a central part of company culture.

Lifeline is developing these action plans to empower staff and managers across a range of suicide-safe skills, from having open discussions to spotting the signs in workmates and fellow executives/owners, to supporting those in crisis or at-risk, to following-up with colleagues impacted by suicide death. Accidental counsellor courses are a key part of the approach.

To find out more about accidental counsellor courses, contact Lifeline Northern Beaches on 02 9949 5522 or Lifeline Harbour to Hawkesbury on 02 9498 8805, or visit

* If you need support with mental health issues or suicidal thoughts, ring Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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