Taking time

Mental Health Week 2020

Staff and students photographed at UQ's St Lucia campus against sandstone buildings.

Staff and students photographed at UQ's St Lucia campus against sandstone buildings.

This year has been particularly challenging for so many of us, and has highlighted the importance of taking the time to look after our own mental health, as well as connecting with and checking in on those around us.


2020 has certainly thrown some curveballs our way. We’ve had to endure raging bushfires, a worldwide pandemic, political turmoil both nationally and internationally, not to mention a continuing environmental climate crisis and a looming economic recession.

The challenges of COVID-19 and the associated restrictions that have come along with it have posed a threat to our mental health and positive energy. Over the years, we have all developed scripts on how to navigate, succeed and flourish in the modern workplace but this year, those scripts have been thrown out. Coming up with a new script to navigate this complex new environment takes its toll mentally.

UQ researchers working on a vaccine candidate for the coronavirus.

UQ researchers working on a vaccine candidate for the coronavirus.

UQ researchers working on a vaccine candidate for the coronavirus.

We are celebrating and raising awareness for Mental Health Week at UQ from 12-16 October with a week of activations both online and across St Lucia, Gatton and Herston campuses.

This year, we will also be recognising and supporting both National Carers Week and Sexual Violence Awareness Month as part of our Mental Health Week program.

View the full program of events here.

Professor Stuart Carney is the Deputy Executive Dean and Medical Dean in the Faculty of Medicine at The University of Queensland. He is also a Liaison Psychiatrist. He kindly shared some thoughts ahead of Mental Health Week.

Why is focussing on mental health important?

Mental health is critical for us to realise our true potential. Positive mental health is associated with people flourishing and thriving. It’s about being productive, creative, having fun in the workplace. 

As a university, UQ basks in the reflected glory of the many successes of our students and staff. Therefore, creating an environment in which individuals are able to realise their true potential is not only a great place to be, a fun place to be, but actually it provides the substrate for all the great stories we as a university tell, about our many achievements. 

What does 'taking time' mean to you?

Take time for me, is about drawing upon the best available evidence to promote those things that have been shown to enhance wellbeing and address those factors associated with increased risk of mental illness. One of these protective factors is social connectedness. That is the importance of connecting with others, be that hanging out with friends and family or contacting them by Zoom or by FaceTime. For colleagues at work, it includes reaching out and asking simple questions such as 'are you okay?', and not being embarrassed or uncomfortable if that person responds with 'actually no, I am struggling a bit at the moment.'

What have we learned from 2020?

In my opinion, one of the communication missteps of our COVID-19 response has been the call for “social distancing.” From a public health point of view, we recognise and accept the importance of physical distancing and staying 1.5 metres apart in the quest to reduce the spread of the virus. But the last thing we can afford to do is to socially distance ourselves.

The greatest concern that we have in the context of lockdown and restrictions is loneliness as a consequence of a disconnectedness from family, from friends and from colleagues. And that disconnectedness is a significant risk factor for mental illness. Lack of confiding relationships is a recognised risk factor for depression, but more broadly that connectedness is a way of reducing and mitigating stress, anxiety and self harm.

What about in the workplace? How can we ensure we are looking after ourselves in that environment?

Mental health is everybody’s responsibility. It’s the responsibility of the entire team and all of us need to take time out to check in on each other and in particular, celebrate successes.

This can be hard-wired into our meetings - whether they be face-to-face or over Zoom. One strategy is to take a moment at the beginning of meetings to reflect on what we are thankful for. It's been a challenging time, and sometimes it’s important to take a second to look back and celebrate what we have achieved in the last month.

Another tip is wherever possible on Zoom is to have our camera on! It's easy to forget how important non-verbal communication is. This new virtual environment is requiring us to purposely rethink our social interactions and remember how important the non-verbal is in the sense of community and understanding. 

Finally, in the workplace, we shouldn't underestimate the importance of timetabling gaps between meetings. A psychiatrist’s “one hour appointment” is 50 minutes, not 60 minutes! That is to give us a gap between appointments – an opportunity to take down some notes and digest the information, to go and make a cup of tea, or to have a chat with a co-worker. 

Finally, how do you look after your own mental health?

We are so blessed living in Queensland, having beautiful weather. I really enjoy going for walks in the sunshine with friends. And another thing that I’m delighted has come back after COVID-19 restrictions have lifted is the cinema! There’s something so magical about the comfy chairs, the lights going down and the escape of watching a film on the big screen.


Professor Stuart Carney photographed against UQ's sandstone buildings at the St Lucia campus.
Professor Stuart Carney photographed against UQ's sandstone buildings at the St Lucia campus.
Professor Stuart Carney photographed against UQ's sandstone buildings at the St Lucia campus.

Professor Stuart Carney is the Deputy Executive Dean and Medical Dean in the Faculty of Medicine at The University of Queensland. He is also a Liaison Psychiatrist. He kindly shared some thoughts ahead of Mental Health Week.

Why is focussing on mental health important?

Mental health is critical for us to realise our true potential. Positive mental health is associated with people flourishing and thriving. It’s about being productive, creative, having fun in the workplace. 

As a university, UQ basks in the reflected glory of the many successes of our students and staff. Therefore, creating an environment in which individuals are able to realise their true potential is not only a great place to be, a fun place to be, but actually it provides the substrate for all the great stories we as a university tell, about our many achievements. 

What does 'taking time' mean to you?

Take time for me, is about drawing upon the best available evidence to promote those things that have been shown to enhance wellbeing and address those factors associated with increased risk of mental illness. One of these protective factors is social connectedness. That is the importance of connecting with others, be that hanging out with friends and family or contacting them by Zoom or by FaceTime. For colleagues at work, it includes reaching out and asking simple questions such as 'are you okay?', and not being embarrassed or uncomfortable if that person responds with 'actually no, I am struggling a bit at the moment.'

What have we learned from 2020?

In my opinion, one of the communication missteps of our COVID-19 response has been the call for “social distancing.” From a public health point of view, we recognise and accept the importance of physical distancing and staying 1.5 metres apart in the quest to reduce the spread of the virus. But the last thing we can afford to do is to socially distance ourselves.

The greatest concern that we have in the context of lockdown and restrictions is loneliness as a consequence of a disconnectedness from family, from friends and from colleagues. And that disconnectedness is a significant risk factor for mental illness. Lack of confiding relationships is a recognised risk factor for depression, but more broadly that connectedness is a way of reducing and mitigating stress, anxiety and self harm.

What about in the workplace? How can we ensure we are looking after ourselves in that environment?

Mental health is everybody’s responsibility. It’s the responsibility of the entire team and all of us need to take time out to check in on each other and in particular, celebrate successes.

This can be hard-wired into our meetings - whether they be face-to-face or over Zoom. One strategy is to take a moment at the beginning of meetings to reflect on what we are thankful for. It's been a challenging time, and sometimes it’s important to take a second to look back and celebrate what we have achieved in the last month.

Another tip is wherever possible on Zoom is to have our camera on! It's easy to forget how important non-verbal communication is. This new virtual environment is requiring us to purposely rethink our social interactions and remember how important the non-verbal is in the sense of community and understanding. 

Finally, in the workplace, we shouldn't underestimate the importance of timetabling gaps between meetings. A psychiatrist’s “one hour appointment” is 50 minutes, not 60 minutes! That is to give us a gap between appointments – an opportunity to take down some notes and digest the information, to go and make a cup of tea, or to have a chat with a co-worker. 

Finally, how do you look after your own mental health?

We are so blessed living in Queensland, having beautiful weather. I really enjoy going for walks in the sunshine with friends. And another thing that I’m delighted has come back after COVID-19 restrictions have lifted is the cinema! There’s something so magical about the comfy chairs, the lights going down and the escape of watching a film on the big screen.


Professor Stuart Carney photographed against UQ's sandstone buildings at the St Lucia campus.
Professor Stuart Carney photographed against UQ's sandstone buildings at the St Lucia campus.
Professor Stuart Carney photographed against UQ's sandstone buildings at the St Lucia campus.

Mental Health Champions

Mental Health Champions promote and encourage a respectful, destigmatising and supportive approach to mental health and wellbeing at UQ. They are trained volunteers who have an interest in promoting mental health initiatives along with supporting others in the UQ community.

Belinda Bern is the Director at UQ's Graduate School and has been at the university for more than 15 years. She is also a Mental Health Champion. Belinda was kind enough to share some thoughts ahead of Mental Health Week.

Belinda Bern photographed against UQ's sandstone buildings at the St Lucia campus.

Belinda Bern

Belinda Bern

What does being a mental health champion mean to you?

I’ve been a Mental Health Champion since the program’s inception about a year ago. I chose to become involved because I believe mental health affects our every day and our ability to be productive and successful in what we’re doing. I also was motivated to encourage people to talk about mental health in a more open way. I believe that normalising these sort of conversations encourages happy and healthier workplaces.

What do you and your team do to promote mental health in the workplace?

I think it's important to try and identify mental health strategies with managers in particular and work to encourage work/life balance. We need to be incorporating these conversations and strategies every day rather than only deciding to acknowledge them on a set week, such as Mental Health Week.

With the pandemic this year, everything has changed rapidly and when we started to return to campus, our team built a plan to accommodate flexible working arrangements, acknowledging that we’re still getting the work done, in some cases, getting more work done, because we’ve got happy healthy people.


Are you interested in becoming a Mental Health Champion? Or maybe you would like to find a Champion in your area? Find out more here.

Stock image: Two people holding hands

Stock image: Two people holding hands

Stock image: Two people holding hands

Stock image: Two people holding hands

Stock image: Two people holding hands

Stock image: Two people holding hands

Psychosocial Safety Climate and Australian Universities

Work stress is increasing across the world with impacts on health, society and productivity. Dr Amy Zadow (UniSA – Centre for Workplace Excellence) will be presenting a webinar as part of Mental Health Week sharing recent preliminary findings from their study on COVID and mental health within Australian universities. Strategies to prevent and improve mental health for teams and staff will also be discussed along with the evidence base for Psychosocial Safety Climate (PSC) theory.

TIP #1

Social support can counter high work demands to reduce work stress.  Develop strategies to improve social support in your team such as formally recognised buddy systems, well-being check ins at staff meetings or informal catch ups.

TIP #2

Job control is a key resource to reduce stress at work. Seek opportunities to communicate and enact preferred work activities, breaks, and shared events, and optimise your job to suit strengths and preferences (e.g. make lists, discuss with a colleague, seek coaching).

TIP #3

During times of high stress it is important to protect your personal wellbeing. Ensure essential needs are met (e.g. drinks, food, breaks, exercise, sleep), introduce regular meditation and mindfulness (there are a range of excellent self-guided apps available), and turn off phone/emails at the end of each work day and on weekends to ensure sufficient recovery time.

The webinar will take place on Wednesday 14 October at 11:30am and you can register here.

Staff and students photographed against UQ's sandstone buildings at the St Lucia campus.
Staff and students photographed against UQ's sandstone buildings at the St Lucia campus.

Psychosocial Safety Climate and Australian Universities

Work stress is increasing across the world with impacts on health, society and productivity. Dr Amy Zadow (UniSA – Centre for Workplace Excellence) will be presenting a webinar as part of Mental Health Week sharing recent preliminary findings from their study on COVID and mental health within Australian universities. Strategies to prevent and improve mental health for teams and staff will also be discussed along with the evidence base for Psychosocial Safety Climate (PSC) theory.

TIP #1

Social support can counter high work demands to reduce work stress.  Develop strategies to improve social support in your team such as formally recognised buddy systems, well-being check ins at staff meetings or informal catch ups.

TIP #2

Job control is a key resource to reduce stress at work. Seek opportunities to communicate and enact preferred work activities, breaks, and shared events, and optimise your job to suit strengths and preferences (e.g. make lists, discuss with a colleague, seek coaching).

TIP #3

During times of high stress it is important to protect your personal wellbeing. Ensure essential needs are met (e.g. drinks, food, breaks, exercise, sleep), introduce regular meditation and mindfulness (there are a range of excellent self-guided apps available), and turn off phone/emails at the end of each work day and on weekends to ensure sufficient recovery time.

The webinar will take place on Wednesday 14 October at 11:30am and you can register here.

Staff and students photographed against UQ's sandstone buildings at the St Lucia campus.
Staff and students photographed against UQ's sandstone buildings at the St Lucia campus.

Do you need support or more information?

UQ staff can access a range of health services both at work and beyond. Find out more here.

Keep on top of your mental and physical health by attending a range of wellness events and activities throughout the year. Find out more here.

The Employee Assistance Program offers free counselling sessions and a range of online resources, available 24/7, 365 days a year.

The UQ Psychology Clinic provides caring and supportive psychological therapy services to individuals, couples and families.

1 in 8 Australians provide unpaid care or support to family members or friends. As part of Carer’s Week, we have provided information and advice to support our UQ community of carers and help them balance life and caring responsibilities. Click here to find out more.

Staff and students photographed against UQ's sandstone buildings at the St Lucia campus.