It's okay not to be okay

It's okay not to be okay

It's okay not to be okay

August 17, 2021

Key learnings from August's Embrace Difference webinar

“It’s okay not to be okay." That was just one of the reassuring messages to come out of August’s Embrace Difference Webinar: Health & wellbeing in today’s world. Thanks to the hundreds of people who joined this important conversation and special thanks to facilitator Emma Baldwin and panellists, Jeff McKenzie, Genevieve Hawkins and Heather Williams for sharing their insights, experience and guidance.

Each of the speakers discussed how to maintain good mental health and explored ideas on how to take care of those around us. At a time when half of the country is in lockdown, there is an undeniable need for people to connect, to check in and to ensure that friends, families and colleagues are coping.

One of the first things established was that not only is it okay not to be okay, but that all of us will not be okay at some point in our lives. Secondly, if you are talking to someone who is not okay, it is okay not to have all the answers. The best thing you can do is to help that person feel connected and heard.

Coles' Group Insurance GM and author of the book Mentally At Work, Genevieve Hawkins observed that we are all living in uncertainty and all of us are vulnerable at this moment in time and recommends the traffic light system of Green>Yellow>Orange>Red to identify where people may be at on the mental health spectrum.

She explained, “If we live with ongoing stress (yellow), our levels of cortisol increase and it is easy to slip into orange - even higher levels of cortisol- which can lead to less healthy lifestyle patterns, like not sleeping, no exercise, bad diet, drug and drinking.”

She suggests that to bring ourselves back before we land in red, we need to up the positive brain chemicals of oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. We get these firing by:

* Mindfulness/observation: Recognise where you are at. Observe your tension levels
* Seek out connection. Connection to others & feel belonging: oxytocin
* Make a contribution. We feel better when we are valued and have a purpose. 
* Curiosity promotes Dopamine levels. Learning new things, stimulated, something to learn.
* Endorphins from exercise are also great and “we try different things with exercise we can trigger both the endorphins and dopamine of learning new things and actually achieving exercise goals trigger dopamine too”.

Pernod Ricard’s Jeff McKenzie generously shared his personal journey of coming to understand the importance of talking about mental health. His best friend had been struggling with his mental health for years and it was not until a group of friends caught up as part of a forum for Livin’- an organisation that aims to break the stigma around mental health, namely that 'It Ain’t Weak to Speak' – that he understood what his friend had been going through.

Some of his advice to people is:
* Look after yourself and your family first.
* Be open with your employer and your staff about your workload of both homeschool and work commitments.
* Everyone’s circumstances are different. be sure to look after yourself first then you can be better for your family and workmates.

For workplace leadership teams, Mr McKenzie stressed the importance of actively listening and listening with empathy. “We don’t need to have the answers, however we can be a great support who can point our employees in the right direction to seek help,” he said.

Heather Williams at Treasury Wine Estates explained that two years ago the business was faced with tackling suicide and suicidal ideation head on. In its regionally based locations, team members were facing this tragedy either directly or via people around and close to them.

TWE responded by implementing a mental health awareness program for all employees to equip them with a foundational understanding of the mental health spectrum.

Again, the green to red spectrum was used and a rating system, as simple as asking, “From 1-10, how are you? R U OK?”.

Employees were helped to understand how to start a conversation, how to connect, how to respond and how to ensure that the vulnerable person felt supported, largely based on the ALEC model from R U OK?.

Ms Williams said, “You don’t need to be qualified or counsellor. Start with check in ALEC (Ask, Listen, Encourage & CheckIn).” 

Importantly, TWE leaders were educated that it is okay for them not to be okay and to show their vulnerability to their teams.

Ms Williams said that "People managers needed to be equipped to deal with situation; to understand importance of role modelling, to be consistent, and to consistently check in on the mental health of their team and individuals.

She also believes that to forge connection, it is important to talk about things other than work. She said, “ ‘Knowing us’ is more than work. It is everything other than work. Engaging with peers is essential to establish sense of trust.”

All speakers agreed that it is is ok to say, “I’m not OK” to friends, to family and at work and Ms Williams reminded us, “Organisations are responsible for psychological safety in the workplace. They must engage with health and safety people in the business.”

If you cannot talk to direct manager, find someone at workplace that you do trust and talk to them. Tell them that you are not ok. 

For leadership teams, the prevailing advice from the session is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable; to sit with your own uncertainty. You do not need to have the answers, do not need to know everything. Do what you can: listen with empathy and get support network in place for the vulnerable employee.

And on a lighter note, some advice that we can always use. Ms Hawkins said, “Remember you are not alone. We are not born to live alone. It is important to have people round you. One of the fastest ways when all else goes to crap, one of the fastest ways is laughter to calm us down. Incredible medicine: you need funny friends.”

Other tips from the webinar:
Be consistent around the conversation and in role modelling with mental health

A 1-10 rating check-in is a way to check-in in a non-threatening way

Make sure the person you are talking to knows the door is open and privacy will be respected

Suggest future catch ups to the vulnerable person

When participating in a video meetings, make sure the cameras are on, for two reasons: a) picture paints 1000 words and b) connection is supremely important

You can watch the full webinar here.


Lifeline 24/7 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 24/7
1300 224 636
Headspace 9.00am-1.00am
1800 650 890
Kids Helpline 24/7
1800 551 800
Livin -


and Summary