OPINION: Mining mental health plan a good example

WORKPLACE mental health planning is a must.

There is no doubt there has been momentum nationally in workplace mental health. You only need to look at the focus that workplaces were given in the latest Report Card handed down by the National Mental Health Commission, or the fact that many national mental health organisations now have a workplace program.

Workplaces offer a unique setting to promote mental health and well-being, prevent mental ill-health and to respond early and well to people experiencing mental illness.

Mental illness is ranked third in Australia's burden of illness after cancer and cardiovascular disease, so it is no surprise it is a major issue for workplaces and industries.

It leads to absenteeism, presenteeism, injuries and lower productivity. Not to mention the effects on the person, their family and the wider community.

Though the emergence of workplace interventions and other broader approaches is encouraging, workplaces are most commonly offered one-off programs or approaches that only address part of the problem.

What we know is that interventions are most effective when individuals as well as systems and structures are targeted.

This week NSW Minerals Council released a Blueprint for Mental Health and Wellbeing, providing a guide to addressing the well-being of employees in the state's mining sector.

The blueprint was produced by the University of Newcastle and Hunter Institute of Mental Health, in conjunction with the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources.

Though there has been much commentary about the prevalence of mental health problems in the mining industry, there is limited reliable evidence to suggest that mental ill-health is either more or less prevalent in the industry.

Even assuming that the mining workforce experiences mental ill-health at the same rates as the general population, that would still mean up to 10,000 employees in NSW and more than 25,000 nationally may experience anxiety, depression or substance-use disorders in a year.

The estimated costs to the industry in NSW alone are between $320 million and $450 million a year.

What is unique about the blueprint is that it is multifaceted and industry owned. It recommends actions that the industry, mines and health partners can take to improve the mental health and well-being of employees.

Rather than focusing on one priority area only, it sets a range of strategic directions including promoting good health and well-being, preventing and reducing risk, building capacity to intervene early, promoting recovery through return-to-work, and creating a culture that supports well-being.

Let's call this a step in the right direction, and hope it turns into a jog and then a run. Let's also hope it inspires other industries to take their first step.

Jaelea Skehan is director of the Hunter Institute of Mental Health and Brian Kelly is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Newcastle. Download the blueprint  at himh.org.au/blueprint.

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