Why Work-Related Mental Health Could Be The Biggest Cost In Your Business

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Work-related mental health issues affect everyone in their working lives at one point or another across the globe. In Australia, 58% of women and 42% of men in Australia made serious claims on average per year amounting to approximately USD372 million.

In the UK for the first time, work-related stress anxiety or depression accounted for over half of all working days lost due to ill health, resulting in a loss of approximately USD86 billion in 2017/18.

Work-related mental health conditions are estimated to cost the global economy USD1 trillion per year.

Annual costs associated with work-related mental health conditions in the USA are increasing twice as fast as all other medical expenses in recent years, according to data from Aetna Behavioral Health, costing US businesses up to USD193.2 billion in 2018.

Work-related mental health conditions take a huge toll on worker health and productivity, with the negative impact felt by individuals themselves, their families, and colleagues. Depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact; the estimated cost to the global economy is USD1 trillion per year in lost productivity.

This infographic from Safe Work Australia looks at the rate, type and causes of work-related mental health conditions in the workplace, to help us focus on how to reduce these statistics.

Work-related mental health conditions (also known as psychological injuries) have become a major concern in Australian workplaces due to the negative impact on individual employees, and the costs associated with the long periods away from work that are typical of these claims. It’s reported that 60% of mental disorder claims are awarded to workers aged 40 and over.

But the situation is likely more grave than reported, as employees frequently call in sick with colds or upset stomachs to hide the fact they may be suffering from a workplace-related psychological issue. According to MIND in the UK, 95% of employees who took time off previously for stress named a physical illness at some stage to avoid difficult conversations with supervisors and managers they felt didn’t support them.

In the US, 71% of adults reported at least one symptom of stress, such as a headache or feeling overwhelmed or anxious, with nearly 1 in 5 working adults reporting mental illness in 2016.

Over the five-year period reviewed by SWA in Australia, the occupations with the highest rate of claims for mental health conditions were defence, transport drivers, support workers, prison and security officers and social and welfare professionals.

In the UK, the fastest-growing rates of work-related stress, anxiety or depression by industry were education, healthcare and social workers, defence, finance and insurance, with notable increases also found in science, technology, arts and entertainment, administration and automotive.

The picture is very different in the US, with manufacturing, retail and food & beverage industries ranking worst for workplace mental health, citing stress, lack of physical exercise, the potential for conflict and feelings of irrelevance as top reasons for poor mental health.

While no two cases are the same, there are some mechanisms that when present within a work environment increases the likelihood of employees developing work-related mental health issues. In Australia between 2010-2015 91% of workers’ compensation claims involving a mental health condition were linked to stress, with the majority of cases relating directly to increase work pressure (31% on average per year).

Increased work pressure is the most reported reason in the UK with 38% of cases, followed by 17.9% reported on financial concerns and 9.5% reported on workplace bullying. More than half (55.3%) of employees interviewed said that their job had become more stressful in the last five years.

Excessive workplace stress causes on average 120,000 deaths a year in the US and results in nearly USD190 billion in health care costs each year. This represents 5% to 8% of national health care spending, derived primarily from high demands at work (USD48 billion), lack of insurance (USD40 billion), and work-family conflict (USD24 billion).

Depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders are consistently reported in Australia, UK and the USA with regards to work-related mental health conditions.

This trend is seen on a global scale, with major depression ranking second (after low back pain) worldwide of work-related reported conditions, and anxiety disorders ranking ninth. Using more inclusive criteria to embrace other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, insomnia and major depression, it is estimated that 164.8 million people of all ages in the European Union (38.2% of the population) suffer from a form of mental disorder each year; the commonest being anxiety (14.0%), insomnia (7.0%) and major depression (6.9%).

Employers must look to address mental health in the workplace as part of their physical health check-ups, due to numerous studies proving the relationship between mental and physical conditions. Depressed persons are twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease or stroke and more than four times as likely to die within 6 months from a heart attack. There is a strong linkage between depression and obesity, where those with depression had a 58% greater risk of developing obesity than non-depressed individuals, and people with obesity had a 55% increased risk of being depressed than non-obese individuals. An added concern is that people with depression also exhibit poor adherence with medication or other prescribed treatments.

“Depressed people are up to 4 times more likely to develop physical conditions such as heart attacks, strokes and obesity.”

Research also shows that there are more workers absent from work because of stress and anxiety than because of physical illness or injury. Furthermore, more days of work loss and work impairment are caused by mental illness than other chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and arthritis. Employees with depression report their productivity at 70% of their peak performance, and approximately 32 incremental workdays are lost to presenteeism for individuals with major depressive disorders.

With such compelling research and staggering statistics, what are you doing to address these issues within your organisation?

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