For a long time, we’ve gathered statistics, measuring just how big this issue of workplace mental health is. We know that in Australia each year it affects 1 in 5 workers and globally costs over $1 trillion (WHO). While these are scary statistics, it’s even scarier to think that those organisations looking to make a real difference are still thwarted by a lack of evidence-based interventions which are proactive, scalable and practical to implement.
The development of Mindarma was all about filling this gap.
Our starting point was to run a systematic review and meta-analysis of resilience interventions to discover what worked an what didn’t. Once armed with these insights, we began creating our own pilot program, designed to enhance psychological resilience and equip workers with a range of protective skills. The program draws on a range of psychological therapies with an existing evidence-base including acceptance and commitment therapy, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and compassion focused therapy.
To test the efficacy of this online program, we sought out one of the most challenging working environments, conducting a randomised control trial with a group of 143 full-time firefighters from Fire and Rescue New South Wales. The results proved positive. At six months follow-up we registered a significant rise in adaptive resilience amongst firefighters in the intervention group. Significant improvements were also measured in resilience-related factors including mindfulness, optimism and active coping.
While many researchers would feel satisfied establishing proof of concept, our goal was always to translate the research into a program that could make a real-world difference. While writing up research results, we were also busy developing a start-up and creating an enhanced version of the program that could be customised for different workplaces and easily rolled out across large organisations.
Mindarma includes ten short interactive sessions, of around 15 minutes each. Learners discover how their mind works and gain skills to help them manage difficult thoughts, uncomfortable emotions and times of high stress. The program provides an introduction to mindfulness with a range of guided audio exercises that users can download to their own device. For ongoing learning, the program also provides a large library of additional resources including articles, videos and podcasts.
For many organisations it is important that the program reflects the unique stressors of their work. As part of our customisation process we spend a lot of time getting to understand workers and what their jobs are really like. We get to learn their language, their in-jokes and the things that are most challenging in their work. Parts of Mindarma are then redeveloped for clients, putting the skills in the appropriate context and making sure that the program feels authentic to staff.
Since launching Mindarma (previously called RAW Mind Coach), the program has reached many thousands or workers in some of the world’s most challenging roles. It was first rolled out across New South Wales Ambulance, where it was made compulsory training for over 5000 staff including paramedics and emergency call takers. For this work the program received a Mental Health Matters Award from the NSW Mental Health Commission.
Other Australian emergency service organisations have quickly followed, with customised versions of the program created for Fire and Rescue New South Wales, St John Ambulance Northern Territory and an upcoming launch to 7000 workers at Ambulance Victoria.
Other sectors where workers are at high risk have also been quick to implement Mindarma. The program has also been adapted for correctional officers, as well as junior lawyers about to enter the workforce. International news agency Reuters have also rolled out the program worldwide to support their journalists, who face an increasingly hostile environment and the many difficulties that come with covering war, natural disasters and other challenging events. Across organisations, we continue to collect pre/post resilience scores and have found that our program successfully enhances adaptive resilience across a range of occupations and workplace settings.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen an even greater demand, with many organisations realising that support for workers is needed more than ever. Over the past few months, we have raced to bring Mindarma to frontline medical workers and those in the community services sector.
We know that in the current environment the pressures on mental health are growing. Our hope is that all organisations will choose to prioritise mental health and put in place evidence-based programs which can protect and empower workers.
About the authors
Mindarma founders Dr Sadhbh Joyce and Jamie Watson combined their skills to create an online learning program, which would protect and empower workers. A senior psychologist and researcher, Sadhbh completed her PhD research as part of the University of New South Wales Workplace Mental Health Research Team, in association with the Black Dog Institute. A copywriter and eLearning specialist, Jamie enjoys bringing essential skills to learners in a fun interactive format that engages and connects.