The $10.9 billion problem that many workplaces ignore: mental illness | Women's Agenda

The $10.9 billion problem that many workplaces ignore: mental illness

It’s a disease that is affecting one in five Australian workers and costs our economy $10.9 billion a year.

Yet it gets less recognition than other workplace hazards, and many more workers are likely to be suffering in silence, too scared to admit they are affected.

Deakin University Professor Tony La Montagne told the ABC the illness is largely invisible, impacted by stigma and prejudice yet it affects more Australian workers than asbestos.

 So isn’t it time workplaces started taking mental health seriously?

 Former morning TV producer Adam Boland, who left his high profile job to focus on his health, believes workplace reform is needed.

 “It’s really simple – stop treating mental illness as a taboo. The very fact we need to run campaigns to smash the stigma proves the stigma still exists. Mental illness doesn’t make someone weird. You don’t have to whisper to them out of fear that someone could hear,” Boland told me.

 Those campaigns are running and are growing louder each year.

RUOK Day is held every year in September. It is a nationwide campaign encouraging businesses and the wider community to ask someone if they are struggling with life. The not-for-profit organisation relies on donations to reach its goal of “creating a world where everyone is connected and protected from suicide.”

 Organisations like beyondblue and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance are also working with businesses to create a more positive workplace environment. Last year they joined forces to create HeadsUp.org.au where businesses can register to receive the tools, resources and support needed to create a mentally healthy workplace.

 Using PWC data the organisation has found that for every dollar Australian businesses invest in mental health they reap $2.30 in return.

 Meanwhile untreated depression costs the economy six million days in absences each year: PWC puts that cost at $4.7 billion with a further $146 million in compensation claims.

 The average worker with untreated depression will take an extra three to four days off per year. There’s a further 12 million days of reduced productivity in the workforce associated with untreated depression. HeadsUp has estimated that costs the economy $10.9 billion or $9,660 per full-time employee.

Being bullied, suffering anxiety, post-traumatic stress-disorder because of work conditions or simply not coping due to a crippling workload can all contribute to poor mental health.

Mental illness is most prevalent in the financial and insurance sector with 33% of workers suffering. Anxiety issues are most prominent in the IT and media industries according to the PWC report.

Adam Boland hopes businesses give more than just lip service to treating the issue and supporting their workers.

“I worry they [mental health issues] just get kept in the drawer of HR departments. “There is no question that people still tiptoe around the issue, particularly managers. I know of people who simply won’t share their condition out of fear of being treated differently or held back. They wouldn’t do that if they had a broken leg. Mental illness needs to be treated like any other, especially by those tasked with managing people,” he said.

Research shows that if businesses invest in mental health first aid, well-being checks, counselling, mentoring and physical health programs; the financial rewards in terms of productivity and a happier workplace would benefit the economy – and Australians.

If you or someone you know needs help contact Lifeline (13 11 14), beyondblue (1300 22 46 36) or the Salvo Care Line (1300 36 36 22).

A version of this article was first published on the Commonwealth Bank’s MyWealth website and has been republished here with permission.

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