The cost of mental illness

MENTAL health is part of managing occupational health and safety and a new initiative has been launched with the aim of encouraging businesses to invest in the mental health of their workforce to boost wellbeing, cut costs and retain employees.
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Kristie Batten

In conjunction with the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance, beyondblue has launched the Heads Up campaign – an Australian-first which aims to encourage business leaders to take action on mental health.

PwC was commissioned to complete a report into the impact of mental illness on Australian workplaces with concerning results.

After looking at the impact of employees’ mental health conditions on productivity, participation and compensation claims, the research also found that mental health conditions cost Australian employers at least $10.9 billion a year and 12 million days of lost productivity.

According to the report, 149,160 workers were employed in the mining industry in 2012, with 50 compensation claims made for mental health issues.

The typical size of the compensation payment was $22,400.

The research showed that 22.7% of workers in the mining industry suffer from a mental condition, with more than half being a substance abuse issue, putting the sector within the top three industries for substance abuse.

The report found that Australian businesses will receive an average return of $2.30 for every $1 invested in effective workplace mental health strategies.

But the research found that those numbers were much higher for small companies, though large mining companies managed to buck the trend of lower returns on investment.

“For example, small mining businesses that invest in effective mental health programs receive an average return on investment of 15, meaning they get $15 out of every $1 they spend,” PwC partner Jeremy Thorpe said.

“This is because employee participation is vital in implementing a successful program. Any positive ROI is something business should strive for.”

The overall ROI for the mining industry was 5.7.

PwC said the benefits typically took the form of improved productivity, via reduced absenteeism and presenteeism (reduced productivity at work), and lower numbers of compensation claims.

“One in five Australian workers are experiencing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety right now, but sadly too many workplaces still do not realise the importance of their employees’ mental health,” beyondblue chairman Jeff Kennett said.

“This report shows that employers have a responsibility not only to their workers, but also to their businesses’ profitability, to tackle these conditions at work.

“Heads Up will provide them with a tailor-made action plan to do this and helps ensure that Australia’s 11.5 million workers receive the support they need to be mentally healthy and productive.”

The centrepiece of the Heads Up campaign is a website, which has designed to be an information hub for businesses.

Later this month, in an Australian first, an action plan will be unveiled on the website to allow businesses to create tailor-made mental health plans to implement in their workplaces.

“Employers who are mindful of their employee’s wellbeing and introduce supporting policies promote greater worker satisfaction and deliver enormous productivity improvements, making it a truly win-win situation,” beyondblue CEO Georgie Harman said.

Harman said too many business leaders did not know how to help workers who were struggling with a mental health condition like depression or anxiety.

“These people continue to face discrimination and do not receive the same support that people with physical conditions receive.

“Employers who do not promote good mental health miss out on the benefits that it can bring, but adopting Heads Up can help to change that.

“Creating mentally healthy workplaces is everyone’s responsibility, but employers need to take the lead.”

The Business Council of Australia has welcomed the initiative.