March 27, 2018

Australian magnate steps down due to mental health reasons

Australian magnate steps down due to mental health reasons

Australian billionaire James Packer has resigned as a director of Crown Resorts Limited, prompting discussion about mental health at the top of business. Mr Packer has been described as one of the most senior business figures to step down after publicly disclosing what his firm called “mental health issues.”

“In a typical country, one in five people suffers from a mental illness, the great majority from depression or crippling anxiety,” writes Lord Richard Layard on the economics of mental health. “Mental illness accounts for half of all illness up to age 45 in rich countries, making it the most prevalent disease among working-age people…”

Writing in The Australian Financial Review, John Brogden, Chairman of Australian crisis support service Lifeline, said, “This makes Packer a lonely figure in business, but at the same time a brave and important one.”

Business leaders are often reluctant to reveal mental health illnesses because of “how that would be perceived by the markets or by their colleagues,” Mr Brogden said.

Dr Grant Blashki, from Australian mental health group Beyond Blue, said being in the public eye has the potential to harm mental health.

“For people who are rich and famous…there’s a tendency to keep up appearances and appear as if everything is OK,” he told the BBC.

He said the competitive culture of the corporate world—with its “brutal measurement and demands”—often sets up high levels of pressure. This means that mental health can sometimes become tied to continued success.

Despite being the most prevalent disease among working-age people, there is still a stigma associated with the illness.

Sir Graham Thornicroft, Professor of Community Psychiatry at King’s College London, notes that only around a quarter of people with mental health issues in the UK seek help, meaning that the vast majority “soldier on without getting the help they need.”

Fears about seeking help for mental health issues often center on an “expectation of reputational damage,” particularly among those working in high-stress environments such as business or the military, he added.

“Providing evidence-based therapies for people with a mental illness should be at the heart of public policymaking, given the burden of mental illness and the payoff to extending treatment,” writes Lord Layard.

“By keeping so many people from working or from working productively, mental illness costs billions in welfare payments and lost taxes. By contrast, therapy boosts both employment and output, with gains exceeding the cost of treatment. It also produces savings in physical health care—as much as 20% of an individual’s annual costs—and improves life-satisfaction.”

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