RUOK? Australian employers lose 8 million working days a year to mental health

by Freya Lucas

September 20

Former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has used her address to the CEDA’s State of the Nation Summit yesterday to highlight the economic and personal costs of mental health conditions in Australia, outlining the deep impact such conditions play on the country’s workforce. 

 

In covering the event, SBS News reported Ms Gillard as saying “Eight million working days are lost due to mental ill-health in Australia each year,” going on to note that the economic cost of poor mental health management amounts to $60 billion annually, when taking into account the impact on individuals and their families, workplaces, and the health and welfare systems.

 

With early childhood education and care (ECEC) professionals being a core support team around families and children, it is of particular importance for the sector to not only be aware of the broader societal picture of mental health, but also to reflect on the personal and economic impact of poorly managed mental health within the sector itself. 

 

Ms Gillard’s comments are supported by the recently released Health of the Nation report which found that mental health issues are now the most common reason for Australian’s to seek support from their GP. Two in three doctors surveyed for the report said mental health is the most frequent concern they handle. 

 

In her address, Ms Gillard highlighted the need to be aware of mental health at a community level, with statistics showing that at any one time, 60 per cent of the community is mentally well, 23 per cent are at risk of mental health conditions, 14 per cent are moderately suffering, and 3 per cent of people are severely unwell. 

 

Economically, Ms Gillard said, the annual cost of poor mental health to Australia’s economy is equivalent to 4 per cent of the GDP. Evidence from Deakin Health Economics shows that investment in mental health prevention can yield substantial positive returns, potentially reducing the 4 per cent figure, Ms Gillard said. 

 

The Deakin figures are substantiated by KPMG’s 2018 Investing to Save report which found that investing $50 million in the prevention and early intervention could achieve up to $442 million in long-term savings to the national economy.

 

Research from PWC, also shared in Ms Gillard’s address, shows that every dollar spent on investing in mentally healthy workplaces yields $2.30 in economic return to businesses. Based on these findings, Ms Gillard called on employers to support those working for them with mental health conditions. 

 

It was important, she said, for that support to be compassionate, and not impact on an individual’s career progression. Conversations should centre on reasonable adjustments, and aim to keep people feeling connected to their work. 

 

In closing, Ms Gillard called for State and Territory Governments to work in combination with the Federal Government to “do the deeper dive and wholly reform our system of mental health.“

 

To read the SBS News coverage of Ms Gillard’s address, as referenced above, please see here. 

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