08/12/2015 2:41 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Mental Health Policy 'Fragmented, Underfunded': Report

Income is always the endless topic of an organization
SamuelBrownNG via Getty Images
Income is always the endless topic of an organization

Australia needs to consider better integration of its mental health and employment sectors following the release of OECD report which slammed the nation’s mental health funding and fragmented policies.

The Mental Health and Work report said Australia lags behind other OECD countries and needs to do more to help people with mild to moderate mental health issues both at, and getting into, work.

“There isn’t a strong integration between them and that requires government intervention and strong policy direction,” said Associate Professor Jacques Metzer of the University of South Australia.

“It doesn’t seem to be there. If you contrast this with the EU approach, then you get quite a different picture.

"We've got an itsy-bitsy system in Australia already -- and that's just the Workcover component of it, which is the insurance component -- we're not even talking about appropriate intervention at the right time. For workers at the workplace, that intervention should occur before such things arise."

He suggested regular organisational "climate surveys" could be used to pick up on potential problems early, before they start to occur in individual workers.

He said events at work can sometimes be a major contributing factor to lasting mental health problems.

But he said work can also fit in as part of recovery.

“I think this is what policy needs to move to,” he said, again citing workplace European workplace practices of earlier intervention.

“My feeling is the employment place -- the workplace – is only a grudging participant, if at all, with such things.

“Often the preference is to get rid of these people, if they can, to the insurance company.”

The OECD report, released on Monday, found that in Australia people affected by mental health issues are three times more likely to be unemployed than those with no mental health problems.

It recommended limiting the risk of long term unemployment by improving early identification of mental health problems, investing in appropriate services for jobseekers with mental-ill health and encouraging post-placement support.

The medical and non-medical costs of mental illness amount to $28.6 billion each year in Australia, or 2.2 per cent of GDP, the OECD report said.

That amount nearly doubles when you add indirect costs, such as productivity loss or sick leave.

The report recommended Australia create a coherent nationwide support structure to support young people with mental health problems in their transition to work.

It also urged policymakers to strengthen employers’ responsibility in sickness management, and in offering employees occupational mental health services regardless of the work-relatedness of workers’ mental health issues.

“To limit the risk of long-term unemployment, Australia must improve early identification of mental health problems, invest in appropriate services for jobseekers with mental-ill health and encourage post-placement support,” the report said.

“Change is also needed in policies to support young people with mental health problems who struggle at school and in their transition to working life.

Health Minister Sussan Ley on Monday defended the Government’s decision not to pump new money into mental health as part of its shake-up of the ailing system, announced in November.

She said the government needs to get the framework right before adding more money.