Mentally healthy workplace benefits all

Almost 75 per cent of mental illness is first experienced before the age of 25.

Mental health, as well as suicide and alcohol and other drug issues, is estimated to cost the Australian economy between 43 and 51 billion dollars annually.

This was the take home message from Dr Peggy Brown, a psychiatrist with high-level experience in designing better mental health systems, and Associate Professor Matt Coleman, a WA-based specialist in substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health problems.

A woman and a man are seated next to a podium. The woman is holding a microphone.
Dr Peggy Brown and Associate Professor Matt Coleman.

The pair formed part of a panel, presented by Youth Focus, Deloitte and WA Primary Health Alliance, and moderated by ABC Health Report presenter Dr Norman Swan, which focused on how to make the workplace mentally healthy for young employees.

Dr Peggy Brown said if young people were engaged and believed in what their employer stood for, and the work environment was good, they would be more likely to thrive, even if they were facing external challenges.

“It is not necessarily the bright, shiny things they value but rather the culture, leadership, support, workload, job design and protection from bullying and harassment.

“The ability to connect with peers is also important as good team functioning builds resilience and creates an environment where employees feel safe to talk about their mental health.”

Associate Professor Matt Coleman said conversely, stigma in the workplace could be overwhelmingly damaging.

“It can leave people feeling like they’re not valued or connected,” he said.

“It reduces understanding between people and therefore reduces good working relationships and collaboration between teams and team members.

Two people, a woman and man, are seated. A third person, another man, stands to their right,
The panel was moderated by Dr Norman Swan.

“Encouraging a work environment where employees feel comfortable and safe to talk about their stress and mental health benefits the entire workplace.”

The panel talked about how to prevent or intervene early in mental health issues, and why creating a mentally healthy workplace for the next generation would increase productivity and improve retention.

Associate Professor Coleman said understanding, promoting and communicating about mental health needed to be a part of core business.

“Employees will be physically unwell throughout the year, just as much as they will be unwell due to mental ill health,” he said.

“It is to an employer’s benefit to know when people are no longer functioning and work with them back to their best health and best mental health.

“Dealing with it, being flexible and willing to offer alternative conditions will not only help the employee, but the business overall.”