The Impact of Mental Illness in the Workplace

By Paul Flanagan, FBG Group, www.fbggroup.com.au

Almost half of the Australian population will experience a mental illness at some stage of their lives, making it one of the leading causes of workplace absence, long-term work incapacity and economic loss.  Whilst the personal distress caused by mental illness is of significant concern to the individual and their families, it can also have a detrimental effect on their career, their work mates and their employer.

Studies have shown that 15-20% of workers experience a mental health issue at any given point in time. Furthermore, up to 25% of employees will take time off work for stress-related factors each year, resulting in a total of 3.2 days of absences per worker, per year.  This contributes to Australian businesses losing over $6.5 billion per year due to mental health illness and over $10 billion each year in stress-related workers compensation claims.  Not counted in these figures is the cost of those workers struggling with mental health conditions whilst continuing to work, which leads to reduced productivity and “presenteeism”.

Low work-related social support and interpersonal conflict are two of the leading causes associated with mental health issues in the workplace.  Additionally, many workers are caring for others outside of the workplace with physical and mental illness whilst continuing to work.

Most mental illnesses are treatable and in many cases even preventable. Employers are able to help by implementing preventative education programs, employee assistance and wellbeing programs and flexible work arrangements to help employees  when challenging situations in their personal lives arise. Providing a healthy and safe workplace benefits all employees, including those with mental illness. A mentally healthy and safe workplace can reduce distress on the worker, alleviate the stress on those they work with and also makes good business sense.

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