Reported mental health issues in the workplace have risen 56 per cent in the past year, and almost half of companies in a major survey say at least one employee has committed suicide or been at risk of doing so, according to a new report.
A survey of 200 companies by law firm Minter Ellison found that one-third of the firms had recorded more than 15 cases of staff experiencing mental health issues in their organisation in the previous 12 months. Forty-two per cent of the companies surveyed had more than than 2000 staff members.
Eighty-one per cent of the company representatives responding to the survey said they spent up to 25 per cent of their time managing staff with mental health issues. Depression and anxiety were the most common illnesses reported.
Of the companies surveyed, 44 per cent said that someone on their staff had either committed suicide or attempted to commit suicide in the previous two years. But 74 per cent of organisations said they lack formal and specific mental health policies or procedures.
Minter Ellison partner Harriet Eager said that, in most cases, employees did not raise mental health issues with managers until they were involved in performance management.
“Managers need to increase their preparedness to discuss mental health proactively,” Ms Eager said.
“They are the ones on the front line dealing with these issues. So they need to be given the skills to identify issues with staff and training on what words to use when raising it with them.”
Ms Eager said this was important in order to abide by work health and safety laws, and to avoid discrimination, adverse action and unfair dismissal claims.
Cases on the rise
Beyond Blue chairman Jeff Kennett said the increase in the number of cases was a reflection that employees in Australian workplaces were becoming more open to discussing the issue of mental health.
He said, however, that cases were on the rise with increased pressures being placed on people by themselves, by society and by the workplace.
“The problem is so many people don’t have the mechanisms to deal with mental health and no benchmark to measure stress and anxiety on and the problem is if it’s left untreated it will get worse,” Mr Kennett said.
Mr Kennett, who will address Australian leaders at the Business Council of Australia in October, said a number of companies had made great strides in helping employees deal with mental health issues.
Last year construction giant Lend Lease introduced mental health and suicide prevention training across its building, engineering and services sites in Australia to help workers recognise the warning signs, support their colleagues and provide them with expert help.