General News — 31 May 2012

Mental health problems among young men are robbing workplaces of nine million working days and costing the Australian economy more than $3 billion every year, according to a report that argues employers could play a greater role in tackling the problem.

Nearly one-third of the costs — equating to $387,000 lost every hour — are picked up by the federal government in direct health costs, disability payments, unemployment benefits and the cost to the jail system, but the rest falls to individuals, companies and other organisations.

The report, to be launched today by Mental Health Minister Mark Butler, says employers are “crucial stakeholders” given they bear the significant impact of absenteeism and reduced or lost productivity, and calls for improved awareness among employers of how to spot specific mental disorders and what support services are available.

The document, commissioned by the not-for-profit Inspire Foundation and consultancy firm Ernst & Young, calls for “new partnership models between government, mental health service providers, NGOs, employers and business groups to create strategies that proactively support employees’ good mental health”.

Jonathan Nicholas, chief executive of the Inspire Foundation, set up by former Paul Keating adviser Jack Heath in the late 1990s, said the effects on productivity of mental problems among young men had received attention only recently.

“The failure to act presents a serious threat to Australia’s future productivity and to the individual prosperity of young men affected by poor mental health,” Mr Nicholas said.

David Roberts, lead partner health advisory at Ernst & Young, said the report revealed the “huge impact” mental health issues had on workplaces.

“If we want to help prevent suicide among young Australian men, we as businesses need to act urgently,” Mr Roberts said.

“Addressing poor mental health in the workplace through early detection and diagnosis has clear benefits to business, including avoiding the costs of absenteeism and potentially reducing the flow-on effects to co-workers by not having to carry additional work tasks.”

The report found males aged 12 to 25 with a mental problem were off work or school or university for an extra 9.5 days a year on average compared with healthy people, and education and training “can act as a protective factor” against mental problems, while secure work promoted mental health by boosting financial independence, social contact and self-confidence, and a sense of personal autonomy.

It recommended greater efforts by all sectors of the community to help young men attain higher levels of education, new strategies to encourage workforce participation and more targeted research to evaluate how well existing mental health programs were working.

Mr Butler said: “The clear message . . . is that we must intervene early and invest smarter to reduce the cost and impacts associated with young men’s mental illness.”

As first appeared in The Australian, 30 May 2012

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