By Dr Lindsay McMillan

As well as a being a significant health and social issue, mental health is a workplace issue that must be taken seriously by Australian workplaces.

According to the ABS, a staggering 45.5 per cent of the Australian population will experience a mental health issue once in their lifetime.

Many of us will know someone who experiences a mental health issue, or will experience one ourselves, however it can be difficult to imagine that the people we see at work may be among this cohort.

Unfortunately, workplaces are still lagging behind in implementing structured approaches to combating poor mental health according to a new report from the NSW Government.

Last week, the Government released research which showed half of businesses in NSW do not have a mental health strategy.

That is despite overwhelming evidence that mental health is a critical workplace issue.

A 2017 Australian study found that mental illness is the leading cause of extended sick leave for workers, and internationally, mental illness has eclipsed back pain as the most common reason why workers are unable to come into work.

Workplaces lose $2.8 billion in New South Wales alone, likely in absences and lost productivity as a result of poor mental health.

Much of what needs to happen in workplaces is cultural change. Unfortunately, many workplaces still see mental health as a “personal problem” and it therefore ends up sitting in the “not our problem” basket.

The other likely claim is that mental health strategies may not work or have an impact. However, the research gives a resounding yes that addressing mental health at work does make a difference.

The Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation and the Brain and Mind Centre found that businesses reap four dollars for every dollar invested in workplace health promotions, in the form of reduced absenteeism and improved productivity.

The numbers speak for themselves. We spend a third (and increasingly more) of our time at work, so it is time to start making that time count. Well thought out and well implemented mental health policy in the workplace, works.

And whilst the economic cost of mental health issues at work is clear, it should not be the driving force behind reforming our workplaces.

It is simply the right thing to do.