Depression in Australian workplaces more ‘hidden’ than in Europe: new research

Almost 50% of Australian workers who had taken time off work because of depression kept the reason hidden from their employer according to a large scale national study released today by SANE Australia involving more than 1000 workers.

The Impact of Depression at Work: Australia Audit found almost double the number of Australians had not told their employer their depression was the reason for their time off, as compared with workers surveyed in Europe.  Almost 1 in 2 who hadn’t informed their employer (48%) had felt they would put their job at risk if they told their employer the reason for time off.

‘It’s concerning that despite all the good work done to increase awareness about depression, many people still don’t feel its okay to talk about their illness,’ says SANE Australia CEO, Jack Heath.

'Depression means more than just 'feeling down", emphasises Heath. 'It is a serious condition which affects every aspect of a person's life, including relationships at work and home.'

‘Not disclosing a mental illness increases stress and prevents access to the very support that can promote successful employment. With one in five Australians experiencing some form of mental illness every year, we are talking about as many as 2 million facing difficulties in the workplace,’ explains Heath.

The research found that Australian workers with depression took much less time off than those in Europe.

For Australians diagnosed with depression, the average number of working days taken off during their last episode was 14.6 days compared to 35.9 days reported by European workers.

‘Further research is needed to determine why people are returning to work sooner in Australia. It may be people are getting better treatment or it may be because of the greater stigma attached to mental illness,’ says Heath. 

Australian managers are far behind their European counterparts when it comes to knowledge of the days lost due to depression. 

Over half of managers have no support from a human resources department while almost 1 in 3 (29%) have no formal support or resources. Australian managers are also calling for more support from HR departments (where they have one), more training on mental health, and more counselling for staff.

According to Jack Heath, the research suggests stigma surrounding mental illness is playing a bigger role in attitudes in Australia, compared with views in some European countries.

‘Increasing awareness around mental illness must go hand in hand with a change in attitudes and behaviours. That is why we need a targeted and comprehensive campaign to reduce stigma across the full spectrum of mental illness,’ says Heath. 

SANE Australia is hosting a national Round Table in Sydney today, drawing together stakeholders from the business, government, and non-government sectors, to develop recommendations for action.




About the research

The Impact of Depression at Work: Australia Audit surveyed 1031 adults aged 16-64 Australia-wide. All workers, including a sub-sample of managers (32%), have worked within the last 12 months. This survey is part of a broader global audit scheduled for release early in 2014. The research was conducted for SANE Australia by IPSOS Australia, and supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Lundbeck.


pdf SANE MEDIA RELEASE: Depression in Australian workplaces more ‘hidden’ than in Europe: new research