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Aussie companies face mental health battle

Australian companies face a challenge to bridge the gap between awareness of mental health issues in the workplace and taking action to improve the wellbeing of staff, a leading industry figure says.

Chief general manager of workers compensation at Allianz Julie Mitchell says employers are unequivocally concerned about employees and know improved mental health positively impacts productivity, talent retention and business performance.

"Yet, the challenge now is to bridge the gap between awareness of mental ill-health in the workplace and taking action," she said.

"We can't take a scatter-gun approach. The priority is addressing each individual's wellbeing as thriving employees will lead to positive team and business outcomes.

"Our actions need to be meaningful to employees and embedded throughout all organisations."

Her comments, coming ahead of World Mental Health Day on Saturday, follow a survey by Allianz which found 80 per cent of employees wanted their companies to do more to address mental health in the workplace.

More than 1500 people, including 1000 workers and 500 managers, were quizzed and identified a number of key issues including workplace bullying and harassment, poor workplace culture and questionable organisational structures.

Almost 40 per cent of workers felt their mental health issues would not be taken as seriously as physical illnesses at a time when compensation claims costs to Allianz related to mental health were rising more than 20 per cent each year.

Three in four people believed there were barriers to implementing mental health initiatives, with stigma being a key problem.

Mental health expert and author Matthew Johnstone, who collaborated on the Allianz report, said employers should not see mental health strategies as difficult and costly to implement or just a box-ticking exercise.

"Leaders can simply start with empathy, conversation, a good ear and a plan to properly address the emotional needs of their people," he said.

"A company, after all, is only as good as the people who work for it. Invest in them and they will deliver returns far greater than just profit."

To mark World Mental Health Day, Beyond Blue and Torrens University have also teamed with a free, online course to provide insights into the experiences of people living with depression.

The four-week course is open to anyone with a personal or professional interest in understanding the condition.

"We talk a lot about mental health but sometimes it can be difficult to know how to support someone from the outside looking in," the university's general manager of health and education Kath Curry said.

"Understanding depression is the first step to supporting someone towards recovery.

"And in order to understand, we need to step into the shoes of someone experiencing it first-hand."

Beyond Blue chief executive Georgie Harman said with the COVID-19 pandemic causing an enormous spike in the number of people experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, it was more important than ever to better connect and respond to sufferers.

"Depression may not look the same for everybody and that's why it's important to learn the signs," she said.

"It's also important to note that depression doesn't only affect the individual experiencing it, it also affects those around them."

© AAP 2020