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Investing in mental health pays off, study shows

Learning the piano has helped Graeme Holdsworth recover.

Learning the piano has helped Graeme Holdsworth recover. Photo: Eddie Jim

Employers urgently need to treat the mental health of their staff as seriously as their physical health and safety, according to Australia's first campaign on mental health in the workplace.

With an estimated one in five Australian workers experiencing mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, the cost to businesses is at least $10.9 billion a year, says mental health group beyondblue.

But if Australian businesses are willing to invest in effective mental health strategies they stand to gain an average return of $2.30 for every $1 spent, according to a report beyondblue commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

It found benefits could include higher productivity, less sick leave and absenteeism and fewer compensation claims.

''Many business leaders don't know how to help those who are struggling with a mental health condition,'' beyondblue chief executive Georgie Harman said.

''These people continue to face discrimination and do not get the same support that people with physical conditions receive.''

Graeme Holdsworth was a project manager on developments including Crown Casino and Sydney's Macquarie Bank headquarters when he became depressed and slowly withdrew from family and colleagues. After becoming unreliable at work he was sacked. He lay in bed all day, drank heavily and eventually attempted suicide.

A better understanding of depression in his former industry might have prompted him to seek help sooner: ''Why didn't anyone pick up on it?'' he said. ''It was always about the job and not about the people.''

Mr Holdsworth, of Richmond, has returned to full health after therapy, exercise and taking up a new challenge. At the age of 68 he has decided to learn the piano.

The estimated $10.9 billion cost to businesses is broken down into $4.7 billion in absenteeism, $6.1 billion in reduced productivity and $146 million a year in compensation claims.

The $2.30 return on investment figure was found by working out the cost of providing seven mental health options in workplaces, including exercise programs and resilience training, and measuring their impact.

About 45 per cent of Australians aged 16 to 85 have mental health problems at some point.

The new ''Heads up'' campaign, funded by the federal Department of Health through beyondblue, will show employers how to be more supportive of those with mental illness.

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