James Packer’s resignation is a reminder to us all

What James Packer will do next after stepping down as Crown chairman

Earlier this week, news of Australian business mogul James Packer’s resignation shocked the nation. The billionaire’s decision to relinquish his reign of the Crown Resorts kingdom — for the second time in a decade, this time owing to “mental health issues” — sent the casino group’s stocks falling to $12.87 within hours. Ever since, the media has been abuzz with a Spanish inquisition into Packer’s personal life.

But perhaps his departure shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Mental health doesn’t discriminate. We often assume that those at the top of their game are safe, but every person — no matter their relative circumstances — is at risk. In fact, recent research notes that 45% of all Australians (aged 18-45) will be affected by mental health issues at some point in their lives. And with 450 million reported cases of mental health issues worldwide, it remains one of our society’s most prevalent health concerns.

However, only half of the Australian workforce (56%) believe that their workplace’s leadership values or prioritises mental health. With this in mind, perhaps the attentions of the aforementioned Spanish inquisition should be turned inwards towards our own workplaces, and how our mental health support fares in its ability to address the epidemic.

Mental health vs mental illness: What’s the difference?

First, it is important to note that the terms “mental illness” and “mental health”, although often used interchangeably, mean quite different things.

In the same way that “health” is an umbrella term for a person’s physical state, the term mental health refers to a range of issues. They don’t all necessarily need medical treatment, or even diagnosis, although low mental health can be debilitating and is said to be more common than depression. Stress levels, resilience, the ability to process change, concentration levels, and general emotions are all mental health risks and symptoms of a need for support.

Although mental illnesses are included under the mental health umbrella, they remain more severe, equating to diagnosable conditions or medically treatable cases of depression, anxiety and more complex psychological disorders. But those with low mental health are more likely to trigger and suffer from diagnosable disorders, so they are intrinsically connected.

Were there warning signs for Packer?

Whilst the outward symptoms of mental health issues are often unique to each individual, any inkling of a struggle should be grounds enough to address the potential problem. This week’s reporting cited various interviews with Packer in which ‘the king of Crown’ repeatedly expressed concerns about his stress levels and state of mind. He acknowledged in October last year that recent circumstances had caused a loss of friends, notable weight gain and a personal evolution into an almost “reclusive” state.

This, along with repeated mentions of being “terrified”, “let down” and under significant financial and personal stress, should perhaps have raised a red flag for those around him. But we cannot speculate about the extent to which this actually happened without additional information. Either way, the takeaway is clear: businesses should be doing all they can to support their entire body of staff to proactively realise better mental health outcomes.

Keeping the kingdom together with better mental health strategies

Research by from beyondblue has found that untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion each year; $4.7 billion of this is attributed to absenteeism, $6.1 billion to presenteeism (unnecessary overtime) and $146 million to compensation claims.

Additionally, it is estimated one in every five Australians (21%) have taken time off work over the last year owing to stress, anxiety, depression or general mentally instability. And 35% of employees still choose to hide their mental health concerns from their management teams.

The movement for better mental health outcomes in the workplace is not without vested interest from a business perspective either: another report from PwC cites that for every $1 invested in mental health, Australian businesses, on average, welcome a $2.30 return.

Corporations, for the most part, find it easy to talk about work performance. Why, then, can’t we talk about mental health comfortably? With proactive mental health and wellbeing programs, companies can realise a workforce that benefits from reduced stress, increased productivity, improved relations and reduced absenteeism.  

We can all take proactive steps to help our staff — no matter how senior — improve their mental resilience and ability to reach out for help when needed, well before they feel the need to pack it all in.

If you or someone you know is living with mental health issues, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636. 

NOW READ: Three ways to plan for taking a mental health break from your business – and how to return to work


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