The recent passing of actor and comedian Robin Williams drew much-needed attention to mental illness and suicide.
In the days and weeks following his death the prevalence and impacts of mental illness featured prominently in the media. As time goes by and the shock of his passing begins to subside however, most of us will once more give little thought to what is a growing problem in Australia and around the world.
Mental illness affects people at all stages of life irrespective of their gender, race or socioeconomic status. According to mental health organisation beyondblue, one in five Australians experience a mental illness each year. In any one-year around a million Australian adults have depression, and over two million have anxiety. At any one time approximately 20% of working Australians are mentally unwell.
The extent to which people are able to focus their efforts, collaborate effectively, invest energy and make good decisions is unquestionably impacted by their mental health. Diminished work performance, morale and engagement, high rates of absenteeism and lost productivity are common and costly consequences of mental illness for many businesses.
While it may not be possible to avoid these impacts altogether, an employer can make a positive difference in three critical ways: protect, educate and support their team. Protect people from mental and physical harm, and educate leaders and staff about how to recognise mental illness and where help is available. Support people to manage the impacts of mental illness and access the help they need.
Protect your team
In Australia, every employer has a legal obligation to provide a work environment free of risk to health and safety. This obligation relates as much to the mental wellbeing of people as their physical health. When consideration is given to the very real and detrimental impacts of mental illness on the productivity and performance of a team the commercial justification for making it a priority becomes clear.
Creating a respectful and compassionate workplace culture that inspires people to look after themselves and one another is among the most important ways an employer influences the mental wellbeing of their team. Every leader has a critical role to play in ensuring the experiences people have at work positively impact upon their mental well-being. Leading by example and holding people accountable for behaving respectfully are essential.
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