General News — 10 October 2012

Employers are losing skilled workers because they are ignoring mental health issues among their staff, the Diversity Council of Australia has warned.

Many employers do not know how to deal with workers with anxiety or depression and staff often end up quitting, council chief executive officer Nareen Young said.

Her comments come on World Mental Health Day today.

And she urged employers to be more open in discussing mental illness in the workplace.

“Employers just don’t know what to do – so it’s really important to have a discussion,” Ms Young said.

“They ignore it (and) it ends up often in people losing their jobs. There needs to be more done in the community because so many Australians have, particularly, anxiety- and depression-related mental illness that we do need to start talking about it in a workplace context.”

National Mental Health Commission research shows Australian businesses lose more than $6.5 billion a year by not providing early intervention and treatment for workers with mental health conditions. About 51 per cent of people with a disabling mental illness participate in the Australian workforce.

In October 2009, state equal opportunity laws were amended to cover mental illness.

Equal Opportunity Commissioner Anne Gale said that there had been 13 official complaints in the past two financial years because people often were not comfortable discussing their mental illness or were not aware of their rights.

Workers are not legally required to disclose mental illness to their employer and Ms Young said most did not.

“These are things that can be dealt with really easily by talking them through and by allowing sick leave and we’re just not dealing with them,” she said.

Business SA chief executive officer Nigel McBride said employers were “sympathetic and accommodating to workers with genuine medical conditions”, both mental and physical.

“However, issues can arise when medical conditions are not brought to the employers’ attention and it is affecting an employee’s performance,” he said.

 

ADVICE FOR EMPLOYERS

 Make employees feel they can talk safely about their mental health at work.

 Provide counselling or access to support groups.

 Foster better understanding of mental illness through education/training.

 Allow appropriate sick leave but monitor patterns to detect long or repeated absences early.

 Reduce factors that cause stress.

 Stamp out bullying and discrimination.

 

As first appeared in The Advertiser, 10 October 2012

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