Impacts of mental illness preventable
AUSTRALIA needs to do more to keep mentally ill people in meaningful employment, Professor Allan Fels says.
The National Mental Health Commission chairman told the National Press Club the profound impact of mental illness on the national economy and productivity was largely preventable.
"Employment, in my view, must be judged as a prime outcome or our investment in mental health," Prof Fels said.
Mentally ill people still faced discrimination in the workplace, which made it "harder to get a job and harder to keep one", he said.
Prof Fels said Australia was lagging behind may other developed countries in this area.
"According to the OECD for instance, Switzerland achieves a 66% employment rate for people with serious mental illness whereas we're down at 48%," he said.
"That is significantly fewer Australians being productive, feeling fulfilled and who have more money in their pockets and are more self-reliant."
He said early intervention and better workplace education about mental illness was vital "so that people in distress can be helped as quickly as you'd expect with a physical illness".
In highlighting the economic impact of mental illness, Prof Fels pointed to research that showed Australian businesses lost more than $6.5billion annually by failing to provide early intervention.
"We believe in, and act on, prevention and early detection in heart disease and diabetes - why not mental health conditions?" Prof Fels said.
He used mining as an example, where an estimated 8000-10,000 employees experienced common mental health illnesses like anxiety, depression or substance abuse.
The cost to that industry, including lowered productivity, was between $320million and $450million per year, he said.
Prof Fels, whose daughter has schizophrenia, used his press club address to announce the NMHC was planning an industry leaders' roundtable to address the issue of mental illness and employment.
"I have already held productive discussions with the CEO of the Business Council of Australia, the CEO of the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia and others about how we might collaborate to trigger more attention to this matter," he said.
Prof Fels's wide-ranging address touched on a number of mental heath issues including suicide, housing, and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which he said was "very welcome".
He said the NDIS should apply not just to people with physical disabilities, but those with a "significant and enduring psychiatric disability".
"We are conscious there will be pressure to reduce costs by restricting the scope of the program. The NMHC will closely watch to ensure that current policy is maintained," he said.
While encouraged by the bipartisan approach to the NDIS, he said the scheme would only cover a small proportion of the population with a mental illness.
The NMHC, which was formed in January, will deliver its first report card on mental health services later this year.
Prof Fels gave an update on the work already undertaken by the commission, which he said would "make a difference".
"If it doesn't, I'll be the first to call for it to be shut down," he said.