He urged business leaders to build a workplace culture where employees feel more comfortable disclosing their mental health difficulties.
‘More employers now appreciate the need to provide a mentally healthy workplace for their staff but we still have a very long way to go in reducing stigma and discrimination,’ Heath says.
Heath emphasised the need to redouble the effort to reduce stigma in uncertain economic times.
‘We need to ensure that uncertainty does not lead to increased stigma in the way that it did in the UK with the GFC. In tougher economic times, we need to guard against a fortress mentality that looks after current employees well but discriminates, either consciously or unconsciously, against prospective employees. We need to ensure we provide inclusive workplaces where workers feel comfortable and supported in disclosing the mental health challenges they face.'
International comparisons with Europe have shown that Australian workers are less likely to know if a colleague is dealing with a mental health issue and Australians are far less likely to disclose a diagnosis of depression to their employers.
‘Clearly, we have improved employers’ and employees’ knowledge and understanding of the symptoms and costs associated with a mental illness like depression but we haven’t yet made the progress we need in changing attitudes and behaviours,’ Heath says.
‘And for all the progress we’ve made understanding depression we have made virtually no progress in reducing the stigma about the poorly understood psychotic illnesses,’ he says.
‘We urge the Federal government to put in place a five year national stigma reduction campaign so that we can build a fair, decent and prosperous Australia in which we all have a place and contribution to make.’