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Aussie Workplaces Should Give Mental Health The Royal Treatment

Mental illness costs Australian businesses almost $11 billion annually.

16/12/2016 5:44 AM AEDT
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"Mental health exists -- just as physical health exists. It is no big deal."

"One of the great truisms in business," says a friend of mine, a former high-flying lawyer who claims throughout his colourful career to have shared boardrooms with the likes of Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch, "is that people will almost never do anything when they fear they could be fired."

"Fear is the great controller of progress."

As I reflected on his words, I wondered whether the inverse of this could also be true -- that people will surely do something when they believe it will lead to them advancing themselves and their careers in a positive way.

Earlier this month, Prince William addressed a group of UK business leaders about their role in improving workplace mental health policy and reducing the enormous effects that this issue continues to have on the UK workforce.

"Work, as we all know, can at times be a source of great fulfillment, growth and fun, but also at times a significant source of stress -- sometimes, if we are honest, to the point of its being overwhelming," the Prince said.

Absenteeism as a result of mental illness costs UK businesses nearly £26 billion annually. Here in Australia, that figure is estimated to be closer to $11 billion as a result of absenteeism and reduced performance.

"But I have seen how an employer can create an environment where it is as unremarkable to talk about feeling a bit 'down' as it is to admit to having a cold."

"Mental health exists -- just as physical health exists. It is no big deal," Prince William said.

And though in this day and age we are now very much aware of the existence of mental health issues, it is still surprising how many of us are neglecting it in a way that potentially prevents us from progressing ourselves and our careers in a positive way.

A 2014 report from beyondblue suggests that for every dollar Australian businesses spend on implementing positive strategies toward improving workplace mental health, the average return on that investment is 2.3 times to the organisation. So, when these actions and strategies are not utilised by an individual, it leaves them exposed and potentially costs both the individual and the employer a great deal more in the long term.

So why are many of us still cautious to engage with this issue if the potential benefits to our businesses and careers are so obvious?

The reason, I believe, is still fear. The perceived, lingering fear that if these strategies don't work as we hoped they would, it may cost us all unnecessary time and money or could even effect our careers or reputations in a negative way.

This is stigma.

It's what keeps people from doing what they fear even when that same action will almost certainly lead them to improving their lives and careers. It's what stops us from letting our bosses know when we are going through a rough period, or are overwhelmed, but that we are focussed on getting the help we need, just as we would if we had a cold or flu.

It's time we pushed a little further forward to find ways around that fear for both businesses and individuals, for the good of our health as well as our economy.

In his address, Prince William also said: "When we talk and listen to family, to friends and colleagues, we share the load; we reduce the problem; we realise we are not alone and we break down the barriers that prevent us from getting the help we need."

"It is really that simple: a problem shared is a problem halved."

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If you need help in a crisis, call
Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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