Business SA's Spotlight on Mental Health

Nigel McBride, CEO, Business SA

It could be the person sitting in the cubicle next to you, your finance manager or your chief executive.

The incidence of mental illness in the workplace is frightening – with the SA Mental Health Commission finding that 19,000 working weeks are lost annually in South Australia due to mental health-related compensation claims.

Workplace wellbeing is a serious issue, whether it relates to mental health, drug abuse, self-medication or just presenteeism, when you turn up to work and your engagement levels are so low because you’re unhappy, brow-beaten or burnt out that you may as well not be there.

The statistics jump off the page. One in five Australian workers took time off because they felt mentally unwell in the past year. One in two Australian workers will experience mental illness in their lifetime. The annual cost of mental illness in First World countries is estimated at 4 per cent of GDP – or $60 billion a year in Australia alone.

People work long hours to climb the corporate ladder, and their mental and physical health often suffers. As their waistline expands and their stress levels rise over their first decade or two in the c-suite, their mental health can deteriorate.

I’ve seen too many young workers letting their health and mental wellbeing suffer as they work past 9 o’clock at night to get the job done. Others self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to cope with working days which clock over 12 hours. 

At Business SA we want to hear about your workplace health and wellbeing concerns, and we have launched a two-week survey to find out which issues concern businesses the most.

World Health Organisation statistics show about 2 per cent of the population has a recurring mental illness, including mood disorders, bipolar disorder or depression, anxiety, psychosis and post-traumatic stress.

The WHO defines good mental health as being free of any particular disorders, having a state of wellbeing where people manage daily stress, work productively and participate actively in their community.

Employees are not obliged to report mental health problems, but disclosing their issues means they often create a more inclusive environment free of stigma and allowing for additional support. If they have not done so already, businesses should consider implementing strategies to deal with growing workplace wellbeing needs.

Mental health plans have been shown to improve staff retention, increase wellbeing and productivity, and cut absenteeism.

Employers have a duty of care to ensure their site is safe and healthy, and that must include better awareness around debilitating mental health issues.

Identifying where problems lie is the first step, which then allows businesses to create a healthier workplace where people are looking forward to turning up in the morning and facing their daily challenges. Productivity will ultimately improve as well.

Businesses often say that people are their greatest asset. That should be a reality, and not just a cliché.

Click here to complete our survey.

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