Health and employment services should intervene earlier to help people with mental illness find and stay in work, according to a new OECD report.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found around 30 per cent to 40 per cent of all sickness and disability caseloads in OECD countries — including Australia — are related to mental health problems.
Almost 50 per cent of workers in Australia with severe mental health issues have a job, while more than 15 per cent with these serious problems are unemployed, the report said.
The personal costs of mental illness are high and people with mild to moderate disorders, such as anxiety or depression, are twice as likely to become unemployed, the report said.
"Mental health issues exact a high price on individuals, their families, employers and the economy," OECD secretary-general, Angel Gurria, said during a launch event at The Hague in the Netherlands.
"Policymakers have been slow to act. Strong political leadership is needed to drive reform and tackle this issue," he said.
The mismatch between the needs of people suffering from mental illness and the services provided to them is one of the biggest problems, the report said.
Current policies are often delivered in silos by health, employment and education services, and creating an integration system — involving early preventative action in the workplace — would deliver much better outcomes, the report said.
Some countries have taken small steps towards an integrated delivery of health and employment services, but they have lacked direction, the report said. Better monitoring of policies and outcomes would enable policy makers to assess their impact more effectively.
In Australia, a Job Seeker Classification Instrument (JSCI) is the primary profiling tool to determine a person's labour market disadvantages and refer them to an employment service for a more in-depth assessment.
"While the profiling tool could determine a client's labour market disadvantage more accurately, the actual identification of mental ill-health is not self-evident," the report said.
"The instrument does not seem to work well for people with mild to moderate mental illness, as the JSCI question relating to mental health is voluntary. If their condition is undiagnosed and/or they do not disclose their condition in the JSCI interview, then it is unlikely they will be quickly referred for a more intensive assessment conducted by an allied health professional."
Consequently, the person's underlying barrier to labour market reintegration can long go unidentified, the report said.
Teachers, employers, GPs, social workers and employment service workers are often best placed to identify people with mental health issues at an early stage, and they need training and clear pathway to access support from mental health professionals.
"Stronger leadership at political and managerial level is needed. In most countries, guidelines and regulations exist but have little impact. Their use should be systematically monitored and non-compliance sanctioned," the report said.
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