Mental health in the workplace is good for business. It not only results in less absenteeism, more engaged workers and better productivity and morale. It also means there’s less likelihood of workplace disability claims and fines for breaches of health and safety laws.

This is no small problem. There are estimates that mental health issues can cost Australian business a staggering $12-$13 billion a year. Research conducted for Beyond Blue has found that more than 6 million working days are lost per year as a result of one mental illness alone – depression. According to Beyond Blue, each worker whose depression is untreated costs their employer $9660.

People experiencing symptoms of depression can be away from work more often than those with ulcers, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, back problems, lung problems or gastrointestinal disorders.

 Apart from depression, workers can also be stricken with anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), alcoholism, drug use disorder and bipolar disorders. These would be the most common mental health issues, and that inevitably spills over into the workplace.

Then you have stress-related physical conditions such as high blood pressure, sleeping disorders and low resistance to infections, it can result in an increase in overall sickness absence. Work-related stress and poor mental health are major contributors to occupational disability issues and workers seeking early retirement.

Medibank Private estimates that a total of 3.2 days per worker are lost each year through workplace stress and that stress-related workers’ compensation claims have doubled in recent years, costing over $10 billion each year. According to Comcare, one in five people in Australia will experience some form of mental disturbance each year.

So what can be done? The Australian Human Rights Commission has a report Workers with Mental Illness: a Practical Guide for Managers recommending a number of steps. 

It says managers can talk to the worker about the condition and offer the worker the option of bringing a support person to the meeting. All discussions at the meeting, held at an appropriate time and place, have to be kept strictly confidential. If the manager feels uncomfortable, they could bring in a health professional like a psychologist, social worker or occupational therapist. If the person doesn’t want to talk about it, they should ask if any they need any assistance. They can also change work schedules like providing more flexible work arrangements or changing aspects of their task. They also have to ensure that work colleagues are not overloaded with extra work.

However, it appears Australian managers are struggling to deal with this. A SANE Australia survey of 520 people surveyed found that no support had been provided to them at work when mentally unwell, and less than half of managers (43 percent) understood anything about mental health issues.

Given the importance of dealing with the issue for workplace productivity, it should be a top priority for managers.

Written by Ross Fastuca @Locomote 


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