Innovative Mental Skillness program challenges the stigma around mental health at work

Collaborative partnership showcases the skills that people living with mental illness bring to their jobs

Skillness ambassador Kimberley Burrell shared her personal story of navigating mental health in the workplace during a celebration of the Skillness campaign in Hornsby.

Speaking at the official launch presented by Primary & Community Care Services (PCCS) at the Skillness Hub in Westfield Hornsby, Kimberley – who lives with anxiety and depression – told the audience how she was taken off projects for fear she wouldn’t cope and was asked by a senior manager if she was ‘cured’.

“I don’t believe any of this was done with malice; I just think it came down to a lack of understanding. In a fast-paced corporate environment, it can be easy for the mental health of your employees to slip down the priority list,” she explained.

“We spend a huge amount of time working so it’s crucial that our work space is safe and healthy. People should be able to feel accepted in their workplace. Mental illness is not a burden. When given the chance, we will thrive.”

PCCS partnered with Northern Sydney Local Health District, icare, Northern Sydney PHN, Family and Community Services and University of Technology Sydney and collaborated with local businesses, TAFE, community services, Hornsby Council and community members to create the Mental Skillness initiative. The campaign combats the stigma around mental health and work and creates avenues for people living with mental illness to thrive at work through a number of programs including a business series to educate and resource business leaders on the topic, and a vocational training program for individuals who face barriers to employment due to their mental health concerns.

“We know that one in five Australians will experience a mental health condition this year. They are our co-workers in nearly every business across the country. They need inclusive workplaces, we all do, and we all deserve them,” says PCCS CEO, Dr J.R. Baker.

“That’s why we developed Mental Skillness – to broaden awareness about a topic that is often overlooked. To help pave the way for more inclusive and more mentally healthy workplaces – they’re not just good for those who already have a mental illness, they’re good for everyone.”

PCCS CEO, Dr J.R. Baker, Andrew Ellery from icare, Allison White from NSW Health, Kate Ellis from UTS


Mental Health Commissioner, Catherine Lourey, praised the Skillness program saying: “The Mental Health Commission of NSW supports the Skillness initiative, where people living with mental health issues are valued and given opportunities to find meaningful employment and engage with colleagues in the workplace. This is important as inclusion, participation and financial independence through employment are an important part of people’s recovery journey.

“Skillness supports young people, who especially need our support – they are more likely to experience mental health issues, of which 75% emerge before age 25, disrupting their participation in social networks, education and employment opportunities. How services and communities respond when young people are struggling will make a great difference to the trajectory of their lives and the opportunities they can grasp.

“Skillness is a great example of a partnership between people with lived experience of mental health issues, communities, programs and government agencies to work towards a common goal.”

Hornsby Shire Mayor, Philip Ruddock, was proud that his region was given the first chance to experience such an innovative program.

“It is important in a community like ours that we have a program like this to bring people out in the open to talk about these issues in a way that enables them to be dealt with,” Mayor Ruddock said.

“I certainly hope our business community recognises they have an important part to play; they need to provide a supportive environment and they need to be careful they’re not part of the problem by the way in which they manage their employees.”

Given one in five Australians will suffer from a mental health condition this year, there is no doubt you have a co-worker, friend or relative who is experiencing a mental health condition and you just don’t know.