Speaking at the event, the Hon. Jeff Kennett AC – founder and chairman of beyondblue – put Australia’s mental health state into context.
“Imagine the MCG on Grand Final Day, packed with 100,000 people,” he said.
“This will help you put the following into context: 70,000 people attempt to take their lives each year – and 10% of those will keep trying until they die by suicide.”
According to Kennett, a key thing for employers to take on board is that implementing a mental health initiative must be an endeavour that is driven from the top.
Unless the leaders of an organisation are personally committed to taking positive action, the opportunity for that organisation to make a real change is significantly reduced, he said.
Patrizia Mercuri, partner in Lander & Rogers’ workplace relations and safety team, said that while dealing with mental health in the workplace is challenging and confronting for employers, they need to accept that it is an issue that will almost certainly affect them at eventually.
“The prevalence of mental health issues in our community, means dealing with employees who have mental health concerns is an issue that will confront most employers at some stage,” she said.
“Developing a mentally healthy workplace and learning more about how to recognise and respond to mental health issues will help organisations meet their obligations to employees.”
What can HR do?
Kennett suggested that a move as simple as offering flexibility in the workplace could make a big difference in terms of productivity and employee happiness.
“A workplace that is flexible and understands the needs of individual employees will be a happier place where there is less stress and less anxiety,” he said.
“We’ve got to make sure that we understand the importance of good health and happiness.
“I’m not saying that we're trying to achieve Utopia, but we can have a better and more productive workplace.
“Increasingly, people are realising not only the social value, but also the increased productivity that comes from having a mentally healthy workplace.”
Mercuri agreed with Kennett’s recommendation, adding that flexibility also showed employees that their organisation “thinks outside the box”.
“Mental health in the workplace is an important issue and something that concerns us all,” she said.
“Being able to openly discuss and address it helps contribute to the wellbeing of employees, the workplace and our broader community.”
Kennett added that one of the most important things was to ensure that everyone was managing their own health – both mental and physical.
“[People need to] plan their lives, stay active and, importantly, make sure that activity is mental as well as physical,” he advised.
Last week, law firm Lander & Rogers held a briefing for employers on managing mental health in the workplace.