Ross Jones thought he was taking a big risk when he phoned his boss from the waiting room of a counselling service to tell him he would not be coming to work that day – or the next.

“At that time in our organisation it was a lot riskier to talk about your mental health, but my boss was great,” he said

Ten years on, Mr Jones is open with his employees about his experience of that “major depressive event” when his boss supported him for the year it took to recover and ease back into work.

As vice president of strategic growth at multinational engineering and environmental consulting firm, Jacobs, Mr Jones said he was committed to supporting the mental health of more than 4500 employees in Australia and New Zealand.

“Since I have been able to move up the ranks, I have been able to do some work to change the culture and awareness and there is no chance that people who work for us will lose their job because of a mental illness. If anything, we are going to get behind them more.”

Jacobs is not alone. Business and mental health advocacy groups are backing a new KPMG plan that shows how a $4.4 billion investment in mental health measures by both government and business could be turned into $8.2 billion in annual savings to the economy initially and $12.7 billion in the longer term.

Andrew Dempster, KPMG director of Health, Ageing and Human Services said businesses needed to lead culture change from chief executive and board level down to let employees know it was okay to talk about having “off days” in the same way they took sick days.

“If people have the flu they stay home. There needs to be a similar discussion at senior levels of management that reinforces that to support people when they are having off days,” Mr Dempster said.

Mental illness affects one in five Australians each year and imposes a $60 billion cost burden on business in lost productivity and on taxpayer-funded hospital services. Mental Health Australia and KPMG have developed a strong economic case for government and industry to improve mental health in the workplace to reduce costs and improve productivity.

Business council boss Jennifer Westacott, who chairs Mental Health Australia, said the KPMG report “Investing to Save” provided a tangible plan to deliver economic gains for business and the community.

“Investing to Save is a foundation for further action on mental health, beyond the measures that governments have prioritised for themselves,” she said. It provided a “very specific to-do-list which makes economic sense” and which governments could act on now.

– Anna Patty

Read more: It’s Time To Give People The Ability To Call In On An Off Day

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