Business Must Address the Growing Mental Health Crisis

mental health crisis

The Australian Government Productivity Commission’s Mental Health Draft Report outlines the growing mental health crisis that costs the economy up to $51 billion each year. Mental ill-health affects our physical health and directly influences how long we live. On average, people with mental ill-health have shorter, unhealthier lives.

The Draft Report is extensive and is available across two volumes. To better understand the critical areas of concern, a 118-page Overview and Recommendations is also available. Due to the length of these publications, for this article, we distil the information to discuss the areas that business can focus on to develop mentally healthy workplaces and address the current mental health crisis. 

The Numbers

The growing mental health crisis in Australia is resulting in:

  • 20% of Australians currently living with mental health issues.
  • At least 3 million working Australians either have mental ill-health or are carers of someone with mental ill-health.
  • People with mental ill-health are five times more likely to be absent from work.
  • The rate of presenteeism is 5-8 times higher for people with mental ill-health.
  • People with mental ill-health have trouble doing their jobs properly.
  • People with mental ill-health negatively impact on the productivity of their work colleagues.

The Positive Impact of Work on Mental Health

Work has many positive impacts on our lives, overall health and mental health. The Draft Report notes that working can give people a sense of identity and provide regular interaction and shared experiences with people outside of an individual’s immediate family.

The collective effort and purpose of work can provide a sense of personal achievement and a positive impact on our wellbeing. When we feel like we contribute to the greater good, we feel happier and more fulfilled.

The structured routines associated with work, help to give direction to the day and promote the need for prioritisation and planning. When we’re busy at work, time flies and the structure helps to keep us grounded.

For people with mental ill-health, increased employment can reduce the stigma of mental illness throughout the workforce. Keeping people in work, rather than allowing them to stay at home, helps in their recovery to a positive mental outlook.

Work provides regular social interaction opportunities for employees as they go about their daily tasks. Regular communication and shared experiences with people outside of a person’s family is essential in our overall feelings of wellbeing.

The Negative Impacts of Work on Mental Health

However, poor working conditions and work environments can have negative impacts on our employee’s mental health. Four conditions emerge:

  1. Job demand and control can contribute to mental ill-health if the job is excessively cognitively or emotionally demanding on the employee.
  2. When employees perceive an imbalance between the effort they put into the job and the reward or praise that receive.
  3. When the job is insecure, and employees are concerned that they may lose their employment.
  4. When employees witness trauma or violence, e.g. first responders to emergencies (see our article, Stigma and Barriers to Mental Health Care).

See our article, How Can Work Impact Employee Mental Health?

The Pivotal Role of Business to Impact Employee Mental Health

Employers can help to address the current mental health crisis by taking these seven steps.

  1. Make psychological health and safety as important as physical health and safety.
  2. Take a risk management approach to psychological health and safety.
  3. Put in place programmes that identify employees with declining mental health early.
  4. Take a no-blame, non-discriminatory stance for employees with mental ill-health to reduce stigma and encourage early intervention.
  5. Provide access to Employee Assistance Programs.
  6. Encourage open conversations about both good and mental ill-health and encourage bullying and sexual harassment reporting.
  7. Provide training in signs and symptoms of mental ill-health and teach coping strategies.

See our article, Do Employee Assistance Programs Work?

How Do You Encourage Employees to Engage in Mental Health Programs?

Organisations that are seeking prevention measures to address the current mental health crisis, need to look at intervention programs. It’s vital to offer a variety of mental health programs to encourage employees to engage. However, most interventions require substantial amounts of face to face teaching or group training time, ranging from single four-hour sessions to a year-long intervention of redesigning the work environment. Training is costly in both time and resources.

There is strong evidence that e-health technologies may be able to assist in meeting some of these practical challenges.  e-Mental health interventions deliver components of psychological therapies through teleconference/telephone, video-conference and internet-based apps with no one-on-one relationship with a clinician.

e-Mental health programs can be highly effective, particularly for mild to moderate mental illnesses. Safe Work Australia recommends that they should now be considered part of a mainstream workplace mental health service delivery portfolio, not just an add-on. KPMG notes that e-health interventions have the potential to deliver an ROI of $1.60 for every one dollar spent.

For businesses investing in workplace mental health, e-mental health interventions remove barriers typically experienced in traditional and face-to-face interactions, including:

  • they are low cost
  • the fidelity of the intervention process is strong
  • they reduce stigma and increase privacy
  • they can be accessed anywhere and are self-paced
  • they have a positive impact on symptoms of major depression, panic disorder, social phobia and general anxiety.

See our article, Why Invest in Workplace Mental Health? What’s the ROI?

How Can Tap into Safety’s Mental Health Training Help?

Tap into Safety‘s mental health training is delivered online and via smart devices, on relevant workplace topics that impact mental health using microlearning. For businesses looking for ways to avert the current mental health crisis, the training helps by intervening early to support worker mental health better by providing relevant and interactive employee mental health training.

The solution offers information on where to reach out for support, including a recommendation to access their Employment Assistance Program. The Platform provides a record of training completion to assist in documented evidence for compliance requirements.

Clients using the training have seen increases in help-seeking by 100%, as shown in the product evaluation conducted in 2017.

By encouraging help-seeking early, we reduce the escalation to serious stress claims. Providing easy access to support encourages employees to tell us when they are not well or not feeling as good as they should. Try a free demo.

To Conclude

Australia, along with other countries, is currently facing a mental health crisis, with 20% of the population suffering mental ill-health. Employers have a pivotal role to play to address employee mental ill-health and to develop mentally healthy workplaces.

The Australian Government Productivity Commission’s Mental Health Draft Report encourages business to make psychological health and safety as important as physical health and safety and take a risk management approach. Employers need to put in place programmes that identify employees with declining mental health early. They must take a no-blame, non-discriminatory stance for employees with mental ill-health to reduce stigma and encourage early intervention. Business needs to provide Employee Assistance Programs and mental health training to educate and support all employees and avert the mental health crisis. 

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