June 24, 2015
Why Invest in Suicide Prevention?
by Sue Murray
Suicide prevention in the workplace is not just a moral duty: Reducing the stressors that lead to suicide attempts makes a business healthier.
While no detailed and independent data exists on the cost of suicide and suicidal behavior to the Australian economy, every death does have a financial impact. A cost estimate produced by Mendoza and Rosenberg in 2010 proposed a plausible estimate to the Australian economy of $17.5 billion per year. This figure included estimated productivity costs.
Research conducted by SuperFriend and IFS Insurance Solutions estimated that, in 2012, death claims paid out in Australia by group life insurers in superannuation where suicide was the “known” cause of death amounted to more than $100 million. For some SuperFriend partner funds, suicide death claims account for more than 20% of their total death claims administered.
There is a relationship between stress and work-related suicide. While suicidal behavior is an extreme outcome of stress, significant productivity gains are to be had by managing workplace stress. Medibank private-commissioned research found that stress-related “presenteeism” (showing up at work but at far less than 100% capacity) and absenteeism cost the Australian economy $14.8 billion a year, with 3.2 days per worker lost each year because of stress.
Work-related mental stress claims are the most expensive form of workers’ compensation claim, as they are often associated with long periods of absence from work. Given that only 70% of workers who report that they have experienced work-related mental stress actually apply for workers’ compensation, the potential cost of worker stress is much higher.
Measures taken to reduce or eliminate work stressors will contribute to suicide prevention while providing the additional benefit of lowering costs.
Suicide in Australia
Suicide prevention is a substantial issue for Australian society. Official figures put the lives lost from suicide at about 2,300 people each year in Australia (population: 23 million); the true figure is more likely around 3,000 deaths each year. About 75% of these deaths are among males. Each death gravely affects families, friends and communities.
Suicide becomes more prevalent in adolescence and rises with age, peaking at around 45 years old in men and 40 in women, then declines, before becoming more prevalent again in those over 80. Most deaths by suicide in Australia are in people of working age (data is not routinely collected on employment status at the time of death).
It is estimated that approximately 2.1 million adults in Australia have had serious thoughts about ending their lives, and 500,000 adults have made a suicide attempt. Approximately 65,000 suicide attempts occur every year.
Work and Mental Health
Nationally, about 12.3 million people are in the labor force, with 11.6 million employed at December 2012. Roughly speaking, a third of these will be self-employed or working in small businesses of fewer than 20 people, a third will be working in medium-sized businesses of 20–199 people, and a third will be working in large businesses of 200 people or more.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that adults spend a third of their waking hours at work. The workplace provides a unique opportunity to reach working age adults and provide key health information and intervention.
The impact of mental health problems on work functioning and performance is at least comparable to the impact of physical injury.
Mental health problems in the workplace typically manifest themselves as performance issues, such as:
- Increased absenteeism
- Reduced productivity
- Increased employee turnover
- Increase in short- and long-term disability days
- Increased disability claims
Employers are increasingly recognizing that mentally healthy staff are more productive and that there are cost benefits to addressing mental health issues in the workplace.