The World Day for Safety and Health is on 28 April. Here, Kathy Bond, Workplace Engagement Manager at Mental Health First Aid, outlines the importance of mental health as an OHS issue.
The events of the past year have opened up even more discussion about the importance of well-being – amidst the global pandemic and changes to our home and work environments. As we continue to find new ways of living and working, there is a renewed focus on the importance of mental health. For businesses, this means taking time to review their mental health strategy and consider how it connects with workplace health and safety. This goes beyond the ‘nice to do’ and should be considered a critical element of HR management in every workplace.
In Australia, we face an ongoing mental health crisis. Suicide remains a leading cause of death, accounting for an average of 8 deaths per day (ABS, 2018) and a reported 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness in any 12-month period (AIHW, 2018). When we factor in the number of people who miss formal diagnosis due to stigma, access issues or disadvantage, then the problem is greater still.
Statistically, every person reading this will know several people impacted by mental ill health. Yet despite the commonality of mental illness, many people still don’t know how talk about it or feel equipped to support someone experiencing a mental health problem. Talking about mental health doesn’t need to be daunting, and there is a place for open, genuine discussions in every workplace.
Workplace mental health – productivity and people
Expecting mental ill health to be contained to a clinical or home environment, and not encroach on the workplace, is false thinking. The recent Australian Productivity Commission inquiry into mental health found that mental illness now has an approximate $12.2 - $39.1 billion per annum cost to the economy through reduced productivity and participation (with a total economic impact of up to $70 billion p.a.). It is estimated that around 2.8 million working Australians have a mental illness. This has inextricable ties to workplace productivity and performance, and the impacts can be seen through participation, job satisfaction, absenteeism, presenteeism, culture and even safety risks.
Employers have a duty to provide safe working environments and this should factor in mental health. Not only is it socially responsible, but it makes sound business sense. The National Mental Health Commission has conducted economic modelling that suggests that tens of millions of dollars can be saved through the provision of workplace mental health interventions. On a local scale, workplaces can anticipate tangible return on investment for dollars spent on activities such as mental health training, counselling and other well-being initiatives. It just adds up.
If you are a manager or business owner, then you are probably thinking about the financial benefits of introducing mental health well-being in the workplace. Yet there is a more obvious and pressing reason to act - people. Every employee in every role, possesses strengths, weaknesses and a different set of risk factors for mental ill health. Supporting people is the right thing to do, and it can be transformational and even life-saving.
Where can workplaces begin?
- Review mental health policy and practice in your workplace. Raise it with your senior management and take action to introduce or improve wellbeing initiatives.
- Get staff educated. Developing knowledge and skills around common mental health topics, positive conversations and pathways to support can give your workplace an edge. We recommend Mental Health First Aid as a starting point, but applaud any steps towards positive mental health education.
- Keep the dialogue open – encourage open discussion, keep mental health on your HR agendas, and appoint people within your office who can champion the cause.
In Australia, almost 1 million people have received Mental Health First Aid training across a broad range of industries, locations and workplaces. You can learn more about MHFA and our training courses at our website (mhfa.com.au) or contact [email protected] to discuss a tailored MHFA program for your workplace.