Unmanaged mental health leaves Aussie companies exposed

by Stephanie Zillman14 May 2013

A leading expert has called for action on the annual $6.5bn spend which is lost due to employers not recognising the signs of mental illness amongst employees and providing early intervention and support.

According to Simone Allan of the Mondo Search Group, their research shows over 20 million work days are lost in Australia, each year, through avoidable stress related illness alone. “[Although] far more days are lost through unmanaged mental illness in the workplace. Stress related worker’s compensation claims have doubled in recent years and are now costing over $10billion annually” she said.

Importantly much of this can be avoided through simple management strategies and appropriate non-confrontational and non-threatening engagement between employers and employees.

"Unlike physical illness in the office research shows the majority of employees will not disclose a mental illness to their employer or manager. The workplace remains the last, great challenge for mental health,” John Brogden, national chairman of Lifeline, commented. “It is a duty of every employer to provide a healthy and safe workplace which benefits all workers, including those with mental illness. It also makes good business sense,” Brogden said.

Recent Harvard Health Publications indicated that mental health problems in the workplace take an enormous personal toll on employees. The financial cost to companies could be eased if a greater proportion of workers who needed treatment for mental conditions were able to receive it.  “The authors of such studies advise employees and employers to think of mental health care as an investment — one that is worth the up-front time and cost” Allan said.

Most of the research on the costs and benefits of treatment has been done on employees with depression. These studies, which focus on the cost benefit of effective management of employees with depression, show that when depression is adequately treated companies reduce job-related accidents, sick days and employee turnover. They also see good improvement in the number of hours worked and employee productivity.

Studies such as these suggest that, in the long term, costs spent on mental health care may represent an investment that will pay off — not only in healthier employees, but also for the company’s financial health.  “It is clear that the cost of ignoring the problem of mental illness in the workplace is far greater than the cost of developing and implementing strategies to create a safe and healthy work environment,” Allan added.

According to the Mondo Search Group, employers should start to think of ways to provide support in the work force and talk openly about mental health. Allan said businesses can make a start by:

  • Recognising the enormity of the problem
  • Providing and making time for mental health days and including these in sick leave entitlements and letters of offer
  • Making mental health counselling available
  • Providing access and links to grief counselling and support
  • Promoting the fact that mental health is a safe and open subject for discussion
  • Supporting staff with compassion when needed and referring them to services like Beyond Blue, Lifeline and RUOK


  • by Brett Butler 14/05/2013 4:58:02 PM

    Most companies would contract an EAP provider. I would encourage readers to connect with your EAP provider and engage them to assist in demystifying the process of having a conversation with a counsellor. I have been with an EAP Provider for 10 years (PPC Worldwide) and know those client organisations that do this well have more open conversations with their people around mental health issues.

  • by SDM 15/05/2013 6:53:20 PM

    This is a really tough one. Where does the role of an employer start/stop? I say this because I work in HR & luckily I have a psych degree & am generally pretty good at identifying the issues but what I am not is a medical professional & I can tell you that neither are any of the people managers within the organisation. Yes, we are responsible for people's safety & welfare but if you go to work with a physical illness you still have to be able to perform the inherent requirements of your role in order to keep your job. The same applies to mental illness but that's much harder to measure. At a basic level, it's not always easy to identify to begin with. The recommendations above are great, don't get me wrong. I just don't think they deal with the issues that play out in the workplace. Ultimately, everyone looses out - the individual, the team and the organisation.

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