Bendigo man Chris Booth is a familiar face to many as a WDEA Works Bendigo Business Development Officer. In his day-to-day life, Chris spends his time advocating on behalf of jobseekers, but what people may not know is that Chris's passion is also driven from personal experience.
One in six working aged people will experience mental illness, and Chris is one of them, having experienced clinical depression since his teens. Having a job was one of the reasons for getting out of bed when he was in the grip of a depressive period.
"It was late in the day and I was still lying in bed. My dad came into my room, pulled me out of bed and told me 'that's it. you're getting a job.' It was a turning point for me. My employer was patient and caring. With their support I gradually built my capacity, confidence and skills; after six months I began full-time hours. They also helped me pull my life together, take personal accountability, find my passion and grow as a person. Although it was almost 19 years ago, words cannot express the gratitude I still have for them and the influence they made in my life," said Chris.
With over three million Australians living with depression or anxiety, it's important for workplaces to create supportive environments to help people manage their mental health. Chris's manager, WDEA Works Bendigo Site Manager Julianne Runnells is passionate about breaking down any stigma around mental health.
"I encourage my staff to be honest about how they are feeling and work with them to ensure they have the tools they need to help them manage. At WDEA Works we encourage staff to take ME Days (staff are allocated two days per year above sick leave and annual leave to just take the day off to recharge) as well as the Employee Assistance Program which allows staff to confidentially access mental health professionals free of charge."
Chris advises jobseekers to speak up.
"Communicate freely with your employer, friends and family about how you're feeling. Push past the stigma, there are a lot of good people and support services out there. It's possible to live with depression and have a fulfilling life,"
In his role as a Business Development officer Chris has seen firsthand the benefits of well-matched jobseekers and employers who are still working together years down the track. Chris says employers shouldn't be afraid of hiring an employee with mental health barriers.
"If you give people achievable goals, they'll feel the success and you'll be rewarded with that person's loyalty. Organisations such as WDEA Works provide ongoing support and help, training and advice for businesses." he said. "A supportive employer can help someone turn their life around."