Insight: May 9

This week Insight hears from employees and employers about how mental illness is being managed in the workplace and asks, how can it be better managed?

Navigating the workplace with a mental illness can be challenging.

Do you tell your boss about an illness? If you do, how will they react? And, what happens if your mental illness might affect your ability to do the job?

An employee’s mental health impacts business profit. It’s estimated that mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces $10.9 billion dollars each year*. However, for approximately every $1 a workplace spends on mental health, they’ll see a $2.30 return on the investment**.

Dave Westgate was hesitant to tell his boss out of concern his corporate career would be killed with kindness.

His feared reaction: “We won’t put Dave on the next big pitch or whatever because it might be too much pressure for him.”

For Carol Scherret, choosing to disclose her mental illness hasn’t always helped her in the workplace.

“I’m either asked to leave, [or] I leave because I’m sick … and some places have taken the opportunity when I’m off sick to restructure and then sort of say … ‘there’s no job for you anymore’.”

John McCormack, a NSW paramedic, says he worried about his decision-making at work when he was struggling with a mental illness: “When I was at my worst, I would get complaints that I was rude and abrupt.”

Mental illness can be difficult territory for employers too.

According to small business owner Alex Colls, the adjustments required to support some people with a mental illness can impact the bottom line.

“Absenteeism … crept up to about 50 per cent which hurt such a small team on such a regular basis.”

For others, like Andrew Campbell, it’s about ensuring that employees in the construction industry are well enough to stay safe on the job.

“Because our industry is so high risk … the last thing we want is someone that’s not doing well that day and going to a high risk job and die because of it.”

The prevalence of Australians living with a mental illness means that this is an issue that both employees and employers are increasingly dealing with.

8:30pm tonight on SBS.

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