A draft report from the Productivity Commission estimates that mental ill-health and suicide are costing Australia up to $180 billion per year and treatment and services are not meeting community expectations.

The report on mental health emphasises the need for better support for young people.

Over their lifetime, one in two Australians will be affected by mental ill-health including anxiety and depression and up to a million people don’t get the help they need.

“Too many people still avoid treatment because of stigma, and too many people fall through the gaps in the system because the services they need are not available or suitable,” Productivity Commissioner, Stephen King said.

The report says that change is needed not only in the health system itself but in schools, workplaces, housing and the justice system.

It includes a comprehensive set of reforms to reorient the mental health system to close service gaps, better target services to meet needs and focus on early intervention and prevention.

“While full scale change will take a long time, there are many changes that governments can start now. For example, follow-up after attempted suicide is proven to save lives and could be started immediately,” Chair Michael Brennan said.

One area of suggested reform focuses on assistance for people with mental illness to get into work and enable early treatment of work-related mental illness, stating:

  • Individual placement and support programs that reconnect people with mental illness into workplaces should be progressively rolled out, subject to periodic evaluation and ongoing monitoring, to improve workforce participation and reduce future reliance on income support.
  • Mental health should be explicitly included in workplace health and safety, with codes of practice for employers developed and implemented.
  • No-liability clinical treatment should be provided for mental health related workers compensation claims until the injured worker returns to work or up to six months.

The report also calls on “workplaces that work for all” and identified 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 are proposing ways to strengthen these and provide additional clarity on what is expected,” the report stated.

It also put forward a view that workplace mental health and productivity would be improved by making psychological health and safety as important as physical health and safety in practice.

Workplace health and safety agencies should develop and implement codes of practices to assist employers, particularly small employers, to better manage psychological risks in the workplace, the report also identified.

“They should also monitor (potentially through industry associations) and build a better evidence base on employer initiated interventions and advise employers of interventions that would likely be effective in protecting and improving the mental health of their employees,” the report said.

“This will bring clarity for employers, in what is currently a highly complex web of legal requirements and expectations, and help them to capture benefits of reduced absenteeism and presenteeism in their workplace.”

The Productivity Commission’s draft report on mental health can be found at www.pc.gov.au and submissions for the final report are currently being taken.

Click here to view the report.

Chamber highlights role of business

On behalf of the broader business community, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) said Australian workplaces, in coordination with health, social and justice services, play an important role in supporting the mental health of Australians.

ACCI supported the draft report as an important first step, with Director of Work Health and Safety Jennifer Low saying mental ill-health is an important public health issue, which impacts not only on individuals and families, but also on the workplaces that form an important part of our community, our social and economic lives.

“This draft report is an important first step and ACCI will be examining it closely. It  makes a number of recommendations across five reform areas impacting government employment support programs, tertiary education institutes, work health safety, workers’ compensation schemes and data collection,” Ms Low said.

“The impact of the recommendations, including their interaction with workplace laws, needs to be further analysed and understood. We will be encouraging the Commissioners to engage with our members, particularly small businesses on key issues such as employment, training and WHS.”

AMMA Advisory Board to examine report

Since 2017, AMMA’s Resources & Energy Mental Health Advisory Board has played a key role in tackling mental health challenges facing the industry.

The Board comprises a range of experience levels across the resources and energy industry, all with a passion for mental health.

One of many focuses for the Board is assisting employers in program development and identifying best practice mental health initiatives.

The implications and opportunities for employers from the report will be an item for discussion at the Board’s next meeting.