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Is shared value the key to solving Australia’s mental health crisis?


8 October 2019 at 8:23 am
Maggie Coggan
With mental illness costing the Australian economy $60 billion every year, a new report says taking a shared value approach to the issue will help. 


Maggie Coggan | 8 October 2019 at 8:23 am


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Is shared value the key to solving Australia’s mental health crisis?
8 October 2019 at 8:23 am

With mental illness costing the Australian economy $60 billion every year, a new report says taking a shared value approach to the issue will help. 

The report, launched by the Shared Value Project (SVP) on Friday ahead of World Mental Health Day on 10 October, found that in the corporate sector alone, the cost of lost wages, decreased productivity and support services related to mental health cost $13 billion a year.  

The finance sector is hit hardest with 33 per cent of employees in the industry experiencing mental illness at some point, and 11 per cent reporting facing negative stigma due to their poor mental health.  

Professor Allen Fels AO, a commissioner with the royal commission into Victoria’s mental health system, said the issue required an urgent response from business. 

“For the industries most impacted by poor mental health, such as financial services, this is not only a competitive business opportunity, but vital risk mitigation,” Fels said.  

“Companies rely on the productivity and prosperity of their stakeholders, and they limit their success if this isn’t taken into account.”

What’s been done about the problem so far? 

Over the past few years, awareness of mental illness and how to manage it or support it has grown. The report said many businesses are now investing in mental health for their employees, in a bid to harness increased productivity by creating a thriving workplace. 

But some of these efforts are falling a little flat because the programs aren’t looking at mental health in a holistic way and aren’t doing anything about organisational culture, or investing in mental health prevention.  

“Few businesses recognise and directly link business and employee health to culture and experience in a healthy way,” the report said. 

How will shared value change this? 

Shared value is a profitable business strategy that also generates social outcomes.  

The report said if the corporate world applied a shared value approach to improving mental health, it would mean dropping “cookie-cutter” employee wellbeing programs and integrating wellbeing as a lens throughout the whole business with a focus on prevention.  

It said designing jobs that enabled employees to understand their purpose in the organisation was important, as well as investing in mental health prevention and promoting a culture of early help-seeking.

Fels told Pro Bono News that with the bulk of mental health funding going to mental health crisis treatment, businesses could save a lot of money by investing in prevention.

“If they thought more about early intervention and encouraging help-seeking it would, in the end, lower the cost of mental health,” he said.  

The report also highlights that taking a shared value approach means looking beyond the workforce, to include customers and the wider community. 

This means designing products and services that don’t cause harm to a customer’s mental health, and understanding trigger points.

Speaking at the report’s launch in Melbourne, Fels said corporate groups could benefit enormously if they looked into improving their customer’s mental health as well.  

“People with mental illness often get into debt and if you’re in debt, it can harm your mental health,” he said.  

“So it would be both a service to the community and good for business profitability if businesses tried to do something about that challenge of customers with mental health problems.”

Helen Steel, the SVP CEO, said that a holistic approach to tackling mental health was critical because everything fed back into each other.    

“Addressing mental ill-health can increase employee efficiency and attendance, improve customer engagement and financial stability, and create more thriving communities to do business with,” Steel said.  

“Ultimately, healthier stakeholders equate to a healthier bottom line.”

How is the community sector involved in this?  

Because of the complexity of the issue, the report points to meaningful partnerships with community groups that are “uniquely equipped to deliver impact”. 

Steel told Pro Bono News that as these groups were experts in the area, it was important for the corporate sector to not only support them but learn from them too.  

“These partnerships will help those community organisations be more effective in the delivery and the work that they do, and then equally, corporates can bring that expertise into their own work environment that will help them as a business to really tackle mental health,” Steel said.

Find a full copy of the report here. 


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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