Mental health problemsCommon mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, can affect any business, leading to the likes of increased absenteeism, high staff turnover and lost productivity. In the security industry, the stakes can be even higher.

“Security staff are often the first responders in emergency situations which may be distressing and if the distress is not addressed, it may put people at risk of developing mental health problems,” says Kate Carnell, CEO of beyondblue, a mental health organisation.

“The nature of the work often means security staff have little control over the demands of their work environment which is a high risk factor for job stress. Male-dominated industries such as the security industry are particularly at risk because men are less likely than women to take action if they’re having a rough time.”

All this surely is a human resources department issue?

“Security has come a long way from being corporate cops. As a security manager, supervisor, operative or employee, your role is to protect lives and property,” says Steve Jackson, Chairman of the Australian Security Medals Foundation Inc (ASMF).

“Doing so means much more that preventing crime or attacks: It means being proactive in creating a secure environment for a company and the community. An environment where people can flourish and live the best lives possible.”

It also means learning to be:

  • emotionally intelligent and being able identify emotional and behavioural disorders; and
  • learning resilient thinking to help others in times of trauma, stress or disaster, which is especially important when you consider the overlooked fact that security officers are often the first responders to incidents and emergencies.

These attitudes and skills can mean help for someone before they become a risk to themselves or others around them.

To increase awareness and teach the right skills, the ASMF has teamed up with beyondblue to launch the beyondblue National Workplace Program in the security industry.

The beyondblue National Workplace Program is designed to:

  • increase awareness and understanding of depression and anxiety in the workplace
  • decrease stigma by improving attitudes towards people who experience depression and anxiety
  • improve skills to recognise the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • be confident to assist a colleague or employee who may be experiencing these conditions.

“Security faces many specific challenges, which the stories of the Australian Security Medal of Valour recipients clearly show, from personal attacks, facing down violent offenders to saving lives and other stressful situations,” says Steve Jackson, ASMF Chairman.

“In addition to security being the real first responders – a fact that is not recognised nearly enough – even in their daily work, research also shows a high incidence of security operatives being confronted with verbal abuse and physical attacks, just for doing their job.”

The fact is, depression and anxiety disorders are the second leading cause of disability and mortality in Australia. Nearly three million people experience depression and/or anxiety each year and, unlike many physical illnesses, it impacts on people during their prime working years. Effective treatments are available, yet only half of sufferers seek treatment.

Get with the program

The beyondblue National Workplace Program is an awareness, early intervention and prevention program, specifically for workplace settings, which aims to increase the knowledge and skills of staff and managers to address mental health problems in the workplace.

The program uses an evidence-based approach and focusses on:

  • how to recognise a work colleague who may be experiencing depression or an anxiety disorder
  • how to support someone to get help
  • good management strategies such as return to work plans and making adjustments in the workplace.

Importantly, the program provides information as well as practical strategies that can be introduced within the workplace. “Workplace presentations and workshops are available to suit any size of company or organisation,” says Jackson. “It need not be restricted to security employees, either. If you want to encourage a campaign across your company through your department, you can. In fact, since it is a risk issue, there could be no better way of increasing the profile of your security department and the role it plays in creating a secure environment.”

The presentations and workshops available include:

1. Senior Executive Briefing: mental health in the workplace:

Recommended session length: 45-60 minutes
Maximum participant numbers: 15 people
Designed for: Executives and senior management

This is designed to highlight the importance of mental health in the workplace to senior executives. The presentation incorporates a business case for tackling the most common mental health problems in the workplace and leadership strategies to address mental health in the workplace.

2. Organisational awareness: mental health in the workplace:

Recommended session length: One hour
Maximum participant numbers: 100 people
Designed for: Staff at all levels within the workplace

This increases awareness among staff members about depression and anxiety disorders, their impact and support for mental wellbeing.

3. Employee awareness to action: mental health in the workplace:

Recommended session length: Two hours
Maximum participant numbers: 25 people
Designed for: General staff groups (excluding managers, supervisors and team leaders)

This workshop is designed to increase awareness among general staff members about the most common mental health problems in Australia and their impact on the workplace.

Participants will also, through the use of DVD case studies and structured discussions, increase their confidence to approach a colleague they may be concerned about.

4. Manager awareness, impact and action: mental health in the workplace:

Recommended session length: Three hours
Maximum participant numbers: 25 people
Designed for: Managers, supervisors and team leaders

This session is designed to enhance a manager’s knowledge about the impact of the most common mental health problems on individuals, the workplace environment and the organisation as a whole. Through the use of DVD case studies and structured discussions, participants will become more confident in the principles and planning required to approach an employee they may be concerned about. Participants will also spend time developing management strategies to address mental health within their organisation.

5. Strategies and solutions for HR Professionals: mental health in the workplace:

Recommended session length: Four hours
Maximum participant numbers: 20
Designed for: Managers and staff in HR, OHS, Return to Work or Injury Management

These sessions are designed to promote mental health awareness and to meet the challenge of addressing depression, anxiety and related disorders in the workplace. Participants will be guided through the fundamentals of mental health problems in the workplace, including an examination of prevention strategies at an organisational level, how to develop appropriate policies and procedures, and how to advise managers on addressing mental health problems with their staff.

Program outcomes

External evaluations show that implementation of beyondblue workshops result in the following outcomes for participants:

  • Increased awareness and understanding about the most common mental health problems in the workplace
  • A greater understanding of the impact of these problems on the lives of people who are affected – including their work performance
  • Improved attitudes and decreased stigma towards a colleague with depression or a related disorder
  • Increased willingness and confidence to assist and/or manage a person who may be experiencing depression or a related disorder
  • A greater understanding of managers’ responsibilities to staff and the organisation as they relate to these issues
  • Increased awareness of support services available for staff to seek help.

Beyondblue’s workplace workshops have been consistently rated highly by participants:

  • 98 per cent of participants would recommend beyondblue training to others.
  • 95 per cent of participants rated the relevance of the content to their job as being good or excellent.
  • 96 per cent of participants rated the quality of the presenter as being good or excellent.

Funding – which is capped and available until the end of June 2014 – is currently provided by the Federal Department of Health’s ‘Taking Action to Tackle Suicide’ strategy. Call the beyondblue licensee Davidson Trahaire Corpsych on 1300 134 644 or email

For more information, please visit or

Suicidal security

Elizabeth Mahfouz, a 53-year-old New York MTA security guard assigned to protect a crew of workers maintaining MetroCard kiosks in July 2013, excused herself and went into a staff bathroom. Once inside, she pulled her service weapon and shot herself in the head.

In September, 2013, Police officers shot and killed an armed man during a standoff in a busy North Carolina street, later identified as 26-year-old Derek Deandre Walker. Walker had posted a suicide message online, took a gun he obtained for a security guard job, and then faced police.

Marcus Crosby, a 36-year-old Illinois high school security guard shot his wife dead before turning the gun on himself, apparently just hours after he tried out for a spot on Family Feud without her, in October 2013.

In 2009, an Italian study found that the overall homicide rate among security guards was 11.4 per 100,000 person-years, compared with the homicide rate for the Italian population of 5.4 per 100,000 persons-years, and concluded that:  “The rate of suicide and homicide among the Italian security guards population was higher than the suicide/homicide rate in the general population. These results show that the phenomenon […] needs attention and specific prevention activities.”

Marcus Crosby and wife (sidebar piece):

Rod Cowan
Rod Cowan has contributed for over 30 years to security around the world through his writing, teaching, speaking at industry conferences and public events, as well as assisting in various Government investigations and corporate research. Cowan is a Research Fellow with the Research Network for a Secure Australia ( and was convener of its Safeguarding Australia Annual Summit 2017 in Canberra. He is also a Strategic Advisor to the Dubai-based Emirates Group Security/Edith Cowan University Centre of Aviation and Security Studies (CASS).