Australia is in the grip of a mental health crisis and it’s costing us $60 billion a year.
That’s the key message from a new report by not-for-profit Shared Value Project (SVP), which is calling on business leaders and governments to step up efforts to improve mental health in the workplace.
Former ACCC chairman Professor Allan Fels wrote the report’s foreword and has been fielding questions from the media about its findings.
Currently a commissioner with the Royal Commission into Victoria’s mental health system, Mr Fels told the ABC that business leaders “need to be very proactive” in dealing with the issue.
“Partly because it’s directly in their own profit interests – mental illness and mental wellbeing do cost them – and it’s also in the community’s interest,” Mr Fels said.
“[The anxiety of work] is one of the drivers, and businesses should look at the environment in which people work – look at work design and look at giving people more flexible hours, because something like one in five Australians every year experiences some form of mental illness.”
Mr Fels said the business community had made good progress in fighting the stigmatisation of mental illness, but a lot more had to be done.
“People come to work but they are not productive because they are depressed or anxious,” he said.
“Something can and should be done about that.”
Finance industry gets a bad rap
In addition to calculating the overall economic cost of mental illness, SVP’s report said people working in financial services were particularly at risk.
It said roughly one in three workers working in the industry are currently suffering from mental illness, 11 per cent had experienced some form of stigma related to mental health, and only 9 per cent think their workplace culture “encourages open discussion around mental health and mental well-being”.
“In the financial services industry, stress and anxiety are the leading types of mental health issues, driven by uncertainty about job security, increasing expectations in their role, and harassment,” the report said.
“The industry presents with a high prevalence of workplace sexual harassment (39%), which has direct implications on people’s mental health and well-being.”
More needs to be done
More broadly, the report said Australian businesses alone faced an annual health bill of $13 billion – mainly through absenteeism ($9.9 billion), reduced productivity ($9.9 billion), and compensation claims ($543 million).
Victorian Minister for Mental Health Martin Foley said at the report’s Melbourne launch that the problem was too big for governments to solve on their own.
“It’s an issue that touches all of us. It’s an issue that touches all aspect of businesses’ operations. It’s an issue that touches all aspect of government’s operations,” Mr Foley said.
“So if we either re-frame how we both talk about and deliver mental health services in our community, we need the support of corporate Australia.”
The report’s release comes ahead of World Mental Health Day on October 10. This year’s focus is suicide prevention.