Mental Health Strategy implementation at the Department of Transport and Main Roads

Sarah Ferris, Manager, Employee Experience at the Department of Transport and Main Roads

The PSC talked to Sarah Ferris, Manager, Employee Experience at the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) about their mental health strategy implementation , including a program to train TMR leaders about the importance of looking after the mental health and wellbeing of employees.

How was the need identified?

In 2019, TMR reviewed the way in which they had been looking out for employees and in particular, their mental health and wellbeing. TMR’s day-to-day wellbeing program for employees was well advanced with the OneTMR Wellbeing Program in place, featuring My Health for Life to improve physical health outcomes.

Sarah says: ‘We knew that if one in five workers in the Australian workforce experienced mental illness (Beyond Blue), this was likely to be reflected in our workforce. With a diverse and widely distributed workforce of 9,000 employees across Queensland, TMR identified the need for a coordinated mental health strategy and approaches throughout the agency – one designed to meet the needs of the blue-collar and also the white-collar employees across the entire TMR employee family.’

What actions have been taken to develop the program?

Led by TMR's Health and Wellbeing Champion, Amanda Yeates, Deputy Director-General, Infrastructure, Management and Delivery, TMR developed a Mental Health Strategy 2019-2021 (PDF, 165 KB) (the Strategy). This strategy is based on the Safe Work Queensland model with four main pillars – promote practices that support positive mental health; prevent psychological harm through identifying and assessing psychological hazards and risks; intervene early through early recognition and intervention (Recognise, Respond, Refer); and support recovery of workers returning to the workplace.

Sarah commented; ‘Our overarching goal has been to de-stigmatise mental illness throughout TMR and ensure staff have the capacity and capability to recognise when their colleagues may be struggling, to understand how to support them and refer them to appropriate support services.'

A point of difference for TMR has been the approach to mental health training for managers and mental health awareness sessions for all TMR employees. While researching peer-to-peer support programs, it became evident that all employees needed to be educated about mental health issues and that everyone has a role to play in supporting their colleagues.

Commencing in 2019, this training is facilitated by experienced psychologists using actors to play the part of employees with mental health issues in the workplace. Managers and employees are taught how to identify the issues and how best to deal with these in the workplace.

This is quite different to the more traditional approaches to role plays and skills development and is a more true-to-life experience for both managers and employees. More than 1,000 managers and employees attended the training in 2019 and early 2020, and TMR will continue to deliver these sessions throughout Queensland in 2021.

Three months on after each training session, managers and employees have both reported positively about their experiences with a high level of retention and recall of what to look for and how to support colleagues with mental health issues. The use of actors creates more memorable and realistic scenarios with linkages to strategies and resources to support colleagues.

Additionally, the training for managers covers relevant legislative requirements, workplace risk factors, and reasonable adjustment for employees with a mental health concerns.

Other initiatives that support the objectives of the mental health strategy

In 2020, TMR tapped into the Dear Mind campaign (Dear Mind | Your Mental Wellbeing ) in a bid to promote a self-care perspective . Sarah says, ‘In 2021 we will continue to promote this to all employees through a 'Be your best you (self-care) challenge'. Just as we do with physical health, it’s important that we all look after our mental health.’

Some of the other key initiatives that TMR has implemented to support the objectives in the Strategy are:

  • Proactive mental health check-ins with trained practitioners for groups of TMR employees whose roles may carry psychological risk. These were conducted with our Senior Leadership team during COVID-19 and have just kicked off with another group of employees who work on resumptions for major road projects.
  • In 2020, TMR provided Respect and Resilience training for 300 customer-facing employees who regularly deal with customer misbehaviour (incivility, abuse and aggression)
  • In 2020 and 2021, Mental health awareness and resilience training was provided for all TMR graduates as part of induction
  • Long before our Mental Health Strategy - a partnership with Mates in Construction since 2010 to deliver a Suicide Prevention Program to our blue-collar workforce
  • Ongoing training since 2015 for all employees to recognise, respond and refer colleagues who may be impacted by domestic and family violence.
  • In 2020, a pilot of the ‘People at Work’ survey to assess and respond to psychological risks in the workplace.

What have been the lessons learned and where to from here?

Sarah commented, ‘The mental health and wellbeing of its employees is a key focus for TMR. The impacts of COVID-19 has resulted in increased calls for organisations to do more to support the mental health and wellbeing of staff. At TMR, employee wellbeing underpins everything that we do to create a single integrated transport network accessible to everyone. We will continually review our approaches to supporting employees and ensure a healthy, safe, well and thriving workforce.'

More information

You can find out more about the Mental Health Strategy – training for leaders at the Department of Transport and Main Roads by email to: