Mental illness in young men costs the Australian economy $3.27b in lost productivity each year, and employers directly $237m, according to a new report that encourages a greater role for employers in developing and delivering mental health initiatives.
Commissioned by the Inspire Foundation and Ernest & Young, the report — Counting the Cost: The Impact of Young Men’s Mental Health on the Australian Economy — shows that 496,000 Australian males between the ages of 12 and 25 years suffer from mental illness, costing the economy $387,000 per hour and over 9m working days lost per year.
The report also shows that the rate of help-seeking among young men with mental illness remains low for reasons that include fear of stigma, embarrassment and perceptions around masculinity that many young men equate with self-reliance and a need to hide their vulnerabilities.
The flow-on impacts of mental illness in young men are said to include drug and alcohol disorders, antisocial behaviour, loss of employment, reduced rates of educational attainment, reduced employment opportunities, reduced earning potential, relationship breakdown, as well as higher rates of incarceration and early mortality than young men without mental illness. Tragically, suicide continues to be the leading cause of death for young men with poor mental health, accounting for 22% of all deaths within this demographic.
Mental illness and the workplace
The report also explores the ‘significant impact’ of mental illness on the workplace and vice versa:
- Employers bear $237m in direct costs of mental illness in young men each year, stemming primarily from absenteeism, lost productivity and staff turnover, including costs expended in hiring and training an individual to carry out the role of an absentee worker if they are away for an extended period of time.
- Mental illness in young men can have an indirect impact on workplace productivity. Presenteeism is more difficult to measure than absenteeism, but it is estimated to be much higher. Studies have shown that workers who suffer from depression are more likely to experience difficulties in focusing on work tasks and the levels of work required of them.
- The negative impact that poor mental health has on the individual may extend to co-workers who may experience increased stress through having to carry out additional work tasks
- Work that is both stressful and insecure can increase the risk of depression up to 14 times relative to jobs in which individuals feel a sense of control and are securely employed. ‘Bad’ working conditions are associated with poor self-esteem and poor physical health.
- Young men with mental illness take an additional 9.5 days out of role per year over and above people without mental illness. This equates to a loss of over 9m working days due to mental illness across Australia per year.
What can employers do?
According to the report, addressing poor mental health in the workplace environment has the direct benefit of avoiding costs of absenteeism and also has the potential to reduce flow-on effects to co-workers by not having to carry additional work tasks.
Therefore, employers and business groups are ‘crucial stakeholders’ in Australia’s mental health challenge, and engaging them in the development of and delivery of mental health initiatives will ‘assist in cultivating a larger, higher skilled and more productive Australian labour force’.
The authors recommend a number of responses to the mental health challenge in which employers play a key role:
- ‘Improve employers’ levels of understanding of mental health, including the identification of disorders and awareness of support and referral services available.
- Initiate new partnership models between government, mental health service providers, NGOs, employers and business groups to create strategies that proactively support employees’ good mental health and ongoing engagement in the workforce.
- Identify new partnership models between employers, business groups, government and NGOs to drive a whole of community response. This includes creating new collaborative funding and service delivery models.
- Strengthen cross sector partnerships between employers and education providers to create stronger pathways from school to work for young men with mental illness. This should include focus on key transition points such as moving from school to further studies or employment.’
‘A call to action’
According to the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, the report highlights the ‘tremendous scope of the mental health challenge that Australia faces, and provides a clarion call for action across Australia’.
‘Two-thirds of mental illness emerges before the age of 21. If that illness is left untreated, it can impact on a person’s education, and later in life on their future career prospects and financial security,’ he said.
‘The clear message from [the report] is that we must intervene early and invest smarter to reduce the cost and impacts associated with young men’s mental illness. We stand to gain from both a happier, healthier population and increased productivity.’
To help reduce the stigma some workers with mental health difficulties face in their jobs, Butler announced that the government is providing $11 million to beyondblue to expand its National Workplace Program. This program assists employers to identify and support workers with depression, anxiety and other related disorders. Between 1 July 2011 and 30 April 2012, more than 480 workplaces across the country participated in the National Workplace Program.