In Australia, the cost to business of mental illness is about $20 billion annually. With World Mental Health Day on 10 October, it’s a good time for organisations to review their mental wellbeing strategies.
One in five adults, or 3.2 million Australians, will experience mental illness in any given year and the cost to theAustralian economy of mental illness is put at $20 billion annually through lost productivity and lost labour participation, according to Professor Allan Fels, chairman of the federal government’s National Mental Health Commission.
Moreover, 45 per cent of the Australian adult population will experience mental illness at some point in their life. “This means that for businesses with more than 10 employees, there’s a good chance that at least one of your colleagues is living with a mental illness. And if you’re in a larger workplace, the figure is probably closer to one in five,” adds Fels.
Given these figures, intervention is crucial, both from a health management and bottom line perspective, with Disability Employment Australia noting businesses lose $6.5 billion each year by failing to provide early intervention and treatment. That slow response can also be attributed in part to lack of information, with recent SANE Australia research revealing only 43 per cent of managers have an understanding of mental illness.
The remaining managers need to get up to speed, as Australian employers must fulfil their legal responsibility to provide a “psychologically safe workplace”, and, under occupational health and safety legislation, create a mental health friendly workplace. Under Commonwealth industrial law, a workplace must not take any adverse action (such as disciplinary action) against a worker because of their mental illness, and both federal and state privacy laws ban employers from disclosing an employee’s mental health status.
What does a mentally healthy workplace look like?
“Mentally healthy workplaces prevent harm to the mental health of their people, make sure people who experience mental health difficulties are supported, and have positive cultures that are conducive to mental wellbeing,” says Fels. “With almost half of Australians likely to experience a mental illness in their lifetime, the importance of having mentally healthy workplaces cannot be overstated.”
Tips for a mentally healthy workplace
- Organise for an inspirational guest speaker to talk to your staff.
- Arrange for your managers to attend AHRI’s short course mindful employer: mental health in the workplace.
- Plan a themed barbecue for lunch and encourage staff to socialise.
- Bring in a masseuse for stress relief.
- Facilitate a mindfulness-based stress reduction workshop on-site.
- Contact the beyond blue initiative Heads Up to implement the right workplace programs and processes, customised to your work environment.
- Read up on workplace wellbeing in the AHRI:ASSIST resource centre.
- Make a mental health promise for your workplace.
- Review your OHS policy at AHRI:ASSIST and ensure it addresses mental health.
- Ensure your management staff are equipped with the right skills and training to identify and mitigate mental health concerns at work.
- Remind your staff about their free right to the Employee Assistance Program and how to access it, or engage a provider if you don’t have one.
- Do a cultural survey of your workplace through an independent consultant and take action to implement the recommendations following the review.
- Encourage healthy behaviours, good nutrition, exercise and proper lunch breaks at work.
Read up on further mental health strategies and World Mental Health Day initiatives.