Making Changes: the 2016 Mental Health in the Australian Workplace Conference

Making Changes: the 2016 Mental Health in the Australian Workplace Conference
By Leah Burgess

A mentally healthy workplace is viable and beneficial for all - that’s the message received loud and clear over two days at the 2016 Mental Health in the Australian Workplace Conference.

Conference organisers The Australian School of Applied Management proudly partnered with beyondblue and Heads Up for the 2016 event, with assistance from FBG. Organisational psychologist and director of FBG Simon Brown-Greaves facilitated the two days. 

With a focus on the lived experience as a model for understanding mental health, this year’s conference was very much about identifying the steps organisations need to take to create a positive workplace culture. Other key themes included building resilience, mindfulness, driving change and identifying risk factors.

Professor Allan Fels AO, Chair of the National Mental Health Commission opened the conference discussing Australia’s contribution to its own mental health initiatives. On discussing the Commission’s report ‘Contributing Lives, Thriving Communities’ he urged all organisations "in both the public and private sectors to start making the steps towards mentally healthy workplaces; the data is strong and undeniable."

The first day saw keynote addresses from Chris Gianatti, Director of Kelly Hazel Lawyers and Anna Louise Bouvier, the Executive Director of Happy Body at Work. Day one also saw a rich panel discussion from RichmondPRA which focused on the importance of changing organisational culture and positive inclusion methods.

A conference highlight was a three part presentation from global law firm, King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) - Partner John Canning and Mobility and Wellbeing Manager Vicki Irvine, and Rachel Clements from the Centre for Corporate Health. 

John Canning opened day two addressing his own experience with bipolar disorder. Canning is no doubt a trailblazer in the quest for better community understanding of mental illness, especially in an industry where it is startlingly more prevalent - current research suggests that one in three lawyers will experience mental health issues in the workplace as opposed to one in five employees from the general population.

Rachel Clements, Director of Psychology from the Centre for Corporate Health went on to uncover findings related to the critical issue of workplace mental health in the legal profession. She discussed recommendations and strategies organisations could use to build resilience and wellbeing amongst staff. She also spoke of the importance of supportive and flexible leadership when dealing with mental health issues, and presented the centre’s version of the mental health continuum.

Vicki Irvine then focussed on the challenges faced by KWM in implementing change; legal obligations, the role of HR, and what to do when an employee wants to come back to work. Vicki’s impressive no holds barred approach to change management has meant that significant in-roads have already been made at KWM in regards to employee wellbeing.

An insightful panel discussion followed, shedding light on the critical need for early intervention when mental health issues arise.

Final day keynote addresses included Tom Baxter, CEO of Ostara Australia, Eliza Oakley from SANE Australia, and sports presenter, Craig Hamilton, himself a bipolar survivor and mental health advocate.

With impressive case studies, and a distinguished line-up of passionate speakers, seminar participants were given holistic and tangible insight into how to offer support strategies and flexibility to those in need.

For a list of free resources to get the conversation started around mental health in your workplace, head to

About the Author:
Leah Burgess is the Communications Manager at the Australian School of Applied Management (ASAM).  Every year ASAM delivers the Mental Health in the Australian Workplace Conference.  This year there were approximately 200 attendees.  Contact ASAM on 1300 138 037 for more information on the Mental Health Workshops in October.    


  • Online Counselling Saturday, 10 September 2016

    I particularly enjoyed Vicki Irvine's presentation as it related to some personal experiences I've had myself. I've been so grateful for the availability of Employee Assistance Programs in providing access to online counselling services in Australia.

Leave your comment

Guest Thursday, 23 May 2019