Business urged to act on male mental health
A new report from a major mental health body has found that a failure to properly invest in controlling mental illness in young men is a significant drain on the economy.
The study by the Inspire Foundation has found mental illness in young men costs the Australian economy $3.3 billion a year.
It also found that suicide remains the leading cause of death for young men.
The report found the Federal Government bore around 31 per cent – or $1 billion a year – of the overall cost for mental illness in men aged 19-25 through payments for health care, welfare and unemployment benefits.
Australia loses more than nine million working days – or 9.5 days per person – each year because of the issue, and the cost to business was around $237 million a year due to extra leave taken, the report found.
Inspire Foundation chief executive Jonathan Nicholas says it is important that mental health is not only seen as an issue for the Government and community sectors.
“For the first time we are starting to understand that there are productivity opportunities and risks associated with the mental health of young men,” he said.
“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.”
There are jokes about taking a mental health day but I think we also know that there is often a lot of truth in a lot of humour.
He has called for a greater focus on early intervention, and finding ways to keep young men in school or at work.
“The first part of it is we need to invest better and support people, and young people in particular, when their difficulties are in their early stages and therefore entirely managed and manageable,” he said.
“The second thing is that we need to better engage with young men while they’re in employment because what we found talking to young men about this study was that being in employment is actually incredibly health promoting anyway.
“So there’s a big role to play there in terms of keeping young men in education, keeping young men in employment and having better services that reach them early.”
Mental health stigma
The Mental Health Council of Australia says employers could help, by being more sensitive to their employee’s needs.
“There are jokes about taking a mental health day but I think we also know that there is often a lot of truth in a lot of humour,” its chief executive Frank Quinlan said.
“And I think there’s an increasing recognition that in workplaces that are stressful that people need to manage their mental health in much the same way as they do their physical health.
“There’s an increasing acceptance across the community of the right and the responsibility that people have to deal with mental illness, but I think that that’s largely characterised as something that somebody else should do.
“So I think if you asked most of the population, should people have time off to deal with mental stress and mental illness, there’d be an overwhelming yes.
“If you say to people, are you prepared to go to your boss and say that you need some time off; people are less likely to be so because they’re still likely to encounter stigma and issues.”
Federal Minister for Mental Health Mark Butler says he is particularly concerned about a lack of understanding about mental illness in some workplaces.
But he has pointed out that many are already taking steps to improve their understanding.
“Our workplace participation rate for people with a mental illness is comparatively low when we compare ourselves to those countries we usually compare ourselves to,” he said.
“So in addition to ramping up the ways in which young people – young men included – can access treatment quickly, we’re also focusing a lot on ways we can improve the culture in workplaces about dealing with mental illness.”
The report calls for more action by government, business and the community to encourage young men to achieve higher levels of education, and improve business understanding of mental illness and support for employees.
It also urges further development of, and research into, prevention and early-intervention programs.
Mr Butler says the Government is working to improve access to treatment and information.
“What we’re also finding, if you talk to organisations like Beyond Blue, is there’s an incredible thirst out there on the part of senior managers and owners of business to understand better what they can do to deal with mental illness in their workplace,” Mr Butler said.