In this post-COVID era, latest statistics suggest that two in five Australians aged 16-85 years (43.7% or 8.6 million people) had experienced a mental disorder at some time in their life and one in five Australian adults experience a mental illness every year. This could be anxiety, depression, substance abuse, anorexia and in more serious cases, psychotic illness. Many of those afflicted are in the workforce and presenting at work every day.
We have all heard the derogatory terms used to describe people with a mental health illness such as ‘crazy’, ‘psycho’, ‘mad’, ‘loony’ or ‘nuts’, just to name a few. Most employers and employees would prefer to talk about anything BUT mental health issues. The management of, and stigma attached to, mental health has progressed a long way but there is still a significant way to go.
So what is the definition of a mental health illness?
“A mental illness is a health problem that significantly affects how a person feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people. It is diagnosed according to standardised criteria. The term mental disorder is also used to refer to these health problems.” (Australian Department of Health).
Some of the most common illnesses in Australia are Anxiety, Depression, Bi-Polar and Substance Use conditions – and the big concern is that with an estimate of just 50% of people getting help, many illnesses go untreated in the community.
What can I do as a business manager?
It might surprise you to discover that as an employer, you have a duty under WHS laws to manage risks to your workers’ mental health arising from their work – so as not to cause a mental health issue and also to manage anyone in the workplace who is struggling with a mental health condition. Accomplishing this skillfully and compassionately will reduce absenteeism and lost working days, and increase productivity.
You cannot ‘fire’ or terminate the employment of anyone for having a mental health condition, as this would be seen as discriminatory and could expose you to legal action.
It gets worse – one study suggests that workplace-related psychological distress costs businesses up to $17.4 billion per year. Meanwhile, Australia’s Productivity Commission estimates that poor mental health costs the national economy more than $200 billion each year and workplace conditions are responsible for 15 to 45 per cent of mental health challenges experienced by employed adults.
So what can you do to help?
There are many programmes and resources available to support mental health initiatives in the workplace
An example being, we have a client whose best sales guy has admitted that he has a cocaine addiction, only he is now the poorest performing sales rep. He has been with the organisation for a long time and his employer wants to help him. We are coaching the team in how to manage this situation. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can also be of enormous support here as well.
Another fabulous example, is that Virgin are training a number of their team to be accredited Mental Health First Responders and their aim is to have one trained First Aider on every flight. They plan not only for this support to be for their fellow employees but also for nervous fliers. What a fabulous goal!
A concern is that the incidence of mental health illness is on the increase and one only has to look at high schools, where it is estimated that one in three teenage girls is suffering from anxiety, to see that the tsunami is coming. These students will be in the workforce within 5-10 years.
As already stated, people are frightened by mental health but awareness and education is key. We also need to reduce the stigma of having a condition. A positive step in the right direction is to train up the people in your organisation to assist in identifying and speaking with colleagues who may be having mental health issues. This is not as big a burden as you think. Talk to us about our partnership with WeCare who supply simple and clear online tools and training for everyone in your organisation. We can offer you a terrific discount on this already very affordable program.
For more information and help on this subject, please book a free Discovery session with one of our Employee Experts..