Lack of support for stressed regional and rural workers

Stress and depression levels high among regional and rural workers, but Medibank says there aren’t enough support services to help

August 5, 2011

One in three rural and regional workers take at least one day off work every few months because they are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, anxious or depressed, new research shows.

Medibank Health Solutions has found that unrealistic work and lack of work/life balance is forcing workers to take time out from the workplace, with almost one in five taking one day off every month.

Despite this, employees surveyed reported that less than a third of employers have a program to support workers who are dealing with mental health issues.

The survey of 1,000 employees was commissioned to identify the key mental health issues facing workers in rural and regional areas and whether there are enough support services in the community and workplace.

The research reveals that 78 percent believe there is not enough support devoted to those with mental health issues in their community, with depression, substance abuse and work-related stress identified as the most prevalent.

Medibank General Manager Matthew Cullen says the results show that mental health issues among staff are often overlooked by employers or there is a lack of awareness about existing services.

"While a lot of time and money is invested in providing a safe physical work environment, the effect that workplace pressures have on an employee’s mental health is being overlooked at a huge cost to employers," Cullen says.

Almost 80 percent of respondents believe their employer has a responsibility to provide support for employees with mental health issues.

According to the survey, 64 percent say they would be encouraged to address their mental health issues if their employer provided a workplace support program.

Confidentiality concerns were identified as the biggest barrier to workers seeking assistance through a workplace support program, with 80 percent saying they would prefer to access a free external counselling service.

"The fear of colleagues finding out is big concern for employees as there is still a negative stigma associated with mental health issues and people think that admitting to suffering from depression or anxiety may harm their chances of career progression," Cullen says.

"As a result, we now see many companies outsourcing their workplace support programs to assure staff that their confidentiality will be protected and that they have access to a quality service."

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