There are particularly strong links between employment and mental health. Being employed can improve mental health and mentally healthy work places are important to maintain the good mental health of those who work there. There are a number of avenues through which employment can improve mental health:
1) working can give people a sense of identity, and provide regular interaction and shared experiences with people outside of an individual’s immediate family
2) the collective effort and purpose of work can provide a sense of personal achievement
3) structured routines associated with work help give direction to the day and promote the need for prioritisation and planning
4) increased employment of people with mental illness can reduce the stigma of mental illness throughout the workforce.
The lost opportunities and missed chances experienced by those with mental illness to work productively and fruitfully creates economic costs for the individual (in terms of lost income) and the community (in terms of lost output or reduced productivity). These costs are particularly high because the effects of mental illness fall mainly on people during their working lives, as opposed to the burden of most other diseases, which commonly affect older people.
About 2.8 million working Australians have mental illness, requiring time off work to maintain their wellbeing; a further 440 000 working Australians are carers of someone with mental illness. People with mental ill-health took an average of 10 to 12 days per year off work due to psychological distress. Estimates for the cost of workplace absenteeism due to mental illhealth were up to $10 billion per year. Mental ill-health can lead to presenteeism, affecting a person’s ability to function effectively while at work. On average, people with mental ill-health reported that they reduced the amount of work they did on 14 to 18 days per year because of their psychological distress — costing up to $7 billion per year. As with physical ill-health, the costs of mental ill-health can go beyond just the immediate loss in activity of the person concerned, but also extend to impacts on the productivity of their work colleagues.
There is a growing focus on the role businesses can play in maintaining the mental health and wellbeing of their workforce — particularly the potential high returns to employers in terms of lower absenteeism, increased productivity and reduced compensation claims from investing in strategies and programs to create mentally healthy workplaces. While businesses already have some obligations to ensure the (physical and mental) wellbeing of their staff, we recommend ways to strengthen these and provide additional clarity on what is expected. For the most part, businesses want to have a mentally healthy workplace, they just need to know what evidence-based measures they should take to achieve this.