Ross Jones thought he was taking a big risk when he phoned his boss from the waiting room of a counselling service to tell him he would not be coming to work that day – or the next.
“At that time in our organisation it was a lot riskier to talk about your mental health, but my boss was great,” he said

Ten years on, Mr Jones is open with his employees about his experience of that “major depressive event” when his boss supported him for the year it took to recover and ease back into work.

Ross Jones is open with his employees about his experience of that ‘major depressive event’. Source: The Sydney Morning Herald 

Ross Jones is open with his employees about his experience of that ‘major depressive event’.
As vice president of strategic growth at multinational engineering and environmental consulting firm, Jacobs, Mr Jones said he was committed to supporting the mental health of more than 4500 employees in Australia and New Zealand.

“Since I have been able to move up the ranks, I have been able to do some work to change the culture and awareness and there is no chance that people who work for us will lose their job because of a mental illness. If anything, we are going to get behind them more.” 

As vice president of strategic growth at multinational engineering and environmental consulting firm, Jacobs, Mr Jones said he was committed to supporting the mental health of more than 4500 employees in Australia and New Zealand.

“Since I have been able to move up the ranks, I have been able to do some work to change the culture and awareness and there is no chance that people who work for us will lose their job because of a mental illness. If anything, we are going to get behind them more.” 

Jacobs is not alone. Business and mental health advocacy groups are backing a new KPMG plan that shows how a $4.4 billion investment in mental health measures by both government and business could be turned into $8.2 billion in annual savings to the economy initially and $12.7 billion in the longer term.

Andrew Dempster, KPMG director of Health, Ageing and Human Services said businesses needed to lead culture change from chief executive and board level down to let employees know it was okay to talk about having “off days” in the same way they took sick days.

Business Council chief and chair of Mental Health Australia, Jennifer Westacott.

Business Council chief and chair of Mental Health Australia, Jennifer Westacott.  Source:Sydney Morning Herald

“If people have the flu they stay home. There needs to be a similar discussion at senior levels of management that reinforces that to support people when they are having off days,” Mr Dempster said.

Mental illness affects one in five Australians each year and imposes a $60 billion cost burden on business in lost productivity and on taxpayer-funded hospital services. Mental Health Australia and KPMG have developed a strong economic case for government and industry to improve mental health in the workplace to reduce costs and improve productivity.

Business council boss Jennifer Westacott, who chairs Mental Health Australia, said the KPMG report “Investing to Save” provided a tangible plan to deliver economic gains for business and the community.

“Investing to Save is a foundation for further action on mental health, beyond the measures that governments have prioritised for themselves,” she said. It provided a “very specific to-do-list which makes economic sense” and which governments could act on now.

Allan Fels said the KPMG report showed how action to address mental health could result in a 'high pay-off for government and the community'.

Allan Fels said the KPMG report showed how action to address mental health could result in a ‘high pay-off for government and the community’. Photo: Josh Robenstone

Recommendations included offering better stress management and therapies to assess and treat mental illness in the workplace and greater flexibility for employees. Early interventions were based on “what works” and calculated to achieve savings of $4.5 billion a year.

Investment of $1.6 billion to house and support young people with a mental illness who were at risk of homelessness was among proposals and estimated to save $4.8 billion in the long-term.

Former chair of the National Mental Health Commission Allan Fels said the KPMG report showed how action to address mental health could result in a “high pay-off for government and the community”.

“The economic gains from mental health reform dwarf the gains from conventional microeconomic reforms like tax reform,” he said.

If people leave hospital and have nowhere good to sleep, they relapse and return to hospital.

Allan Fels

“In cold economic terms, one of the most costly consequences of mental illness is reduced workforce productivity stemming from absenteeism and presenteeism. The World Economic Forum estimates that it costs 1.75 per cent of GDP.”

Professor Fels, a former head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, said KPMG’s plan to invest in housing for young people with mental illness could help keep them out of hospital.

“If people leave hospital and have nowhere good to sleep, they relapse and return to hospital,” he said.

“We spend a lot on people with acute mental illness in hospital. If we invested more up front in prevention and early intervention the cost burden on hospitals would be reduced.”

The report’s recommendations are calculated to generate a total of $8.2 billion in short term savings and more than $12.7 billion in the longer term, from a $4.4 billion investment.

Mr Jones said he hoped that being open about his own battle with mental illness would encourage employees to feel more comfortable about asking for help if they needed it. The company uses an online survey developed by mental health technology company Medibio to help staff check and seek external advice on managing their mental health.

While Jacobs realised it not only needed to invest in keeping its employees safe on construction sites, it also needed to guard their mental health.

“It was important that we kept spending money on safety but we really needed to invest more in the mental health of our workforce,” Mr Jones said.

Louise Dubois, Acting Director Health, Safety and Environment at Optus

Louise Dubois, Acting Director Health, Safety and Environment at Optus Photo: Kate Geraghty

“Whether or not it saves us money, if we are living our values that our people are our greatest asset, then we need to accept that people are going to suffer from a mental illness and we need to be part of the care for them to get them back to full health.”

Louise Dubois, acting director of Health, Safety and Environment at Optus said it provides employees and their families professional counselling services and interactive apps to help manage their mood, stress and sleep.

Optus has more than 200 mental health “first aiders” and has trained more than 1000 of its managers with a program, Healthy Minds, to help employees access mental health support services if needed. A rehabilitation program helps employees return to work after a period of physical or mental illness.

Workers compensation claims for mental health cost an average of $330,000 per person compared to a third of that cost for the average physical injury claim.

This piece by Anna Patty was first seen on ‘The Sydney Morning Herald‘, 30 April 2018. 

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