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Mental health at work

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Health is an important factor in business. The health of a company is only as strong as the health of its employees. If an employee suffered a broken bone or back injury, any good manager would insist good care and sufficient rest be high on the agenda. However, when it comes to mental health, the duty of care isn’t as clear.  

Let’s look at the facts

Every year, more than one million Australians experience depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, according to research conducted by not-for-profit organisation, BeyondBlue. Mental illness is Australia’s third biggest health problem, behind heart disease and cancer, yet only three per cent of the of the population identifies it as a major health concern.  

With such prevalence, it’s only natural for mental health issues to infiltrate the workplace. BeyondBlue estimates that an employee with untreated depression will accrue annual costs of $9665 to the organisation, resulting from absenteeism and lost productivity. The total cost to the Australian workforce is over six million days of sick leave and 12 million days of reduced productivity.

With such information in hand, businesses can’t afford not to take notice of these pertinent issues affecting the health of employees. Business owners and managers need to ask themselves ‘do we have a strategy for dealing with mental health issues in the workplace?’ 

Take action

Becoming familiar with information pertaining to mental health, including the symptoms of a possible problem, is a good starting point. A staff member who exhibits behavioural changes lasting more than two weeks is one indicator of a possible issue. Other signs could include severe mood swings, increased sensitivity or social withdrawal.

What seems the simplest solution isn’t always the best. Recommending time off work or reduced workload can actually cause more harm than good. Remember, mental health is a delicate and sensitive issue and should be approached as such. Listen to the employee, rather than making accusations or offering pity.

Education promotes understanding

Creating a workplace that fosters care and understanding is crucial. Encourage positive relationships between employees and their managers, where each staff member feels valued. Furthermore, implementing pathways to counselling is beneficial to the health of the workplace as a whole.

The major barrier when it comes to depression or related health problems is the stigma attached. Education is key and programs or courses on the subject can assist in disabling negative attitudes in the workplace towards mental health.

Since 2004, BeyondBlue has offered the National Workplace Program (NWP), offering services to corporate companies aimed at increasing awareness and de-stigmatising mental health. The program’s content equips managers and employees with the knowledge to recognise symptoms and the skills to deal with and manage mental health issues in the workplace.

BeyondBlue’s services give employees the confidence to address mental health issues of their own or those close to them. Encouraging people to approach the appropriate healthcare professionals when needed is a major benefit of the program.

The benefits of company-wide education are clear. Research conducted by the University of Colorado demonstrates treatment of employees facing mental health problems results in 22 per cent reduced absenteeism. Programs aimed at early diagnosis and intervention are shown to have a five-fold return on investment, resulting from increased productivity.

It’s results like these that make for happy employees and a happy boss. Ensuring the good health of employees is the first step towards an organisation in good health.

For more information on BeyondBlue or its corporate programs and services, visit BeyondBlue.

Important information: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

Published on: Wednesday, August 11, 2010

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