Executives dismissing staff mental health issues

TOP-TIER executives are ignoring or denying the mental illness of their staff, the head of Australia's biggest mental health charity says. Mental illness costs the economy more than $6.5 billion every year, but the executive director of SANE Australia, Jack Heath, said too many company heads were not serious about addressing it.

''People in the boardrooms of major Australian companies, who are often a bit older, are more reluctant to acknowledge mental health as an issue that needs to be addressed,'' he said.

''We've got a growing awareness - but it's coming from the bottom up, with lower-level employees and middle managers discriminating against the mentally unwell less.''

A SANE survey of more than 500 workers found 95 per cent felt their employers were uneducated about mental illness and needed training to manage its effects.

Most said no support had been provided to them when they were mentally unwell.

Executives needed to recognise the effects of mental illness, Mr Heath said, and provide the funding to train staff in addressing mental health.

''A couple of very high-profile corporate executives have in the past week told me how they didn't think mental health was an issue and had a very dismissive view of mental illness,'' Mr Heath said. ''One of them went through depression and it was only then that he understood how debilitating it could be.''

SANE has introduced a program called Mindful Employer, which teaches mid-level staff how to address the mental health of workers.

''What we need now is for the upper echelons of business to get on board with the program,'' Mr Heath said.

A lawyer for a high-profile company, who did want to be named, said he suffered a breakdown and was hospitalised after failing to get support from his employer. His company distributed tips suggesting staff ''go for a swim in the ocean'' or ''go home and cook a meal with your family'' to de-stress, he said.

''Apparently the irony of recommending such fun and whimsy to a group of employees who are effectively required to remain at the office upwards of 14 hours a day, months on end, was lost on human resources,'' he said.

The lawyer called on companies to introduce programs that provided staff with meaningful help.

This story Executives dismissing staff mental health issues first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.