David Burroughs is the Principal Psychologist at Australian Psychological Services. David has worked as a psychologist across community, military and workplace mental health for 20 years. His speciality has been operating at the nexus of clinical and organisational psychology to help design, implement and evaluate strategies to support positive workplace mental health and proactively manage mental ill-health.
David is also actively involved in the small business and men’s mental health domain and has a passion for the practical application of psychological research.
The team sat down with David to find out what being a Life in Mind Champion means to him.
Why do you encourage organisations to sign the National Communications Charter?
The workplace mental health domain is still characterised by a high level of concept confusion, often misinformation, and approaches that are more menu-based and emotion-based than evidence-based.
As a strategist, advisor and practitioner, one of the biggest challenges I continually encounter when supporting organisations’ approaches to workplace mental health is where there is no clear definition as to what they mean by ‘mental health’, which influences the impact and focus of their activities.
The Charter gives organisations a great foundation to work from as it defines and recognises that mental health is a positive concept, and that mental ill-health doesn’t discriminate.
I see it as a great way for communicating and encouraging action, not just to support those people experiencing mental-ill health (which is where most workplace efforts start and stop) but supporting the mental health needs of all staff.
I also believe that by adopting a common language around mental health, we can eradicate some of the accidental stigma that occurs when the term ‘mental health’ is used as a proxy for ‘mental illness’, which perpetuates a deficit lens.
What does being a Life in Mind Champion mean to you?
Being a Life in Mind Champion means a lot to me. It gives me a platform to promote the importance of inclusive and non-stigmatising language in the ways we talk about mental health and suicide. I feel very privileged to have multiple roles that give me a voice across such a vast array of industries and organisations.
I believe all organisations are just a microcosm of society and all people and all workplaces have an important role to play when it comes to supporting mental health and suicide prevention.
What led you to working in this space?
I am motivated by impact at scale, which is one of the reasons as a psychologist I have chosen to work predominately across organisational rather than clinical settings.
Early in my career I was often involved in assessing psychological injuries in the workplace where regrettably the focus seemed almost exclusively on who had the problem, rather than actually addressing how workplace factors may have contributed to someone’s mental health-related vulnerabilities. While this work paid the bills, it didn’t sit well with me professionally or ethically, and it has driven me to try to change the way workplace mental health is approached and helped shape my career.
My ongoing desire to see workplaces adopt a more strategic, evidence-based and psychosocial focussed approach to workplace mental health and move away tokenistic, reactive approaches still keeps me motivated in the twilight of my career.
With Westpac leading the way as one of the first organisations to appoint a CMHO (article from 2019 here), what are some of the biggest challenges and rewards from being a trailblazer in this area?
I think trailblazer might be a bit of a stretch! I have just been lucky enough to have made a rewarding career out of helping bring great academic research and evidence informed approaches to workplace mental health to life within organisations willing to challenging convention.
I am grateful to be able to work with an organisation like Westpac, where they truly value mental health and where I am given the latitude to work at such a strategic level.
Outside of my Westpac work, my biggest challenges, even after all this time, is getting organisations to understand why popularity isn’t a proxy for effectiveness when it comes to workplace mental health activities, getting them to appreciate the dangers of faux expertise and the importance of moving away from medicalised and individualistic approaches to workplace mental health.
The biggest reward is seeing increasing momentum across industries towards genuine early intervention for and prevention of mental-ill health, and away from the reactive approaches that focus exclusively on addressing individual symptomology.