How to Promote Better Board Member Mental Health

In July news broke that Australian Billionaire James Packer resigned from 24 boards in total this year where he held directorships as one of the country’s most prominent businessmen. His spokesman in a statement announced that Packer is “suffering from mental health issues” and is seeking treatment for depression, a move which won him widespread praise from the business community. Packer is not alone. Now more than ever, business culture needs to promote and foster a greater sense of mental health well-being from entry-level all the way to the C-suite.

How to promote better board member mental health

The Significant cost of MENTAL HEALTH

Do you know the expected cost of poor mental health in the workplace? Brace yourself. The World Economic Forum in a recent report estimated that the global economic cost of mental illness in 2030 is expected to reach $6.0 trillion.  

Statistics on mental health in the workplace refute the sheer magnitude of the illness for businesses:

  • In the U.S. 1 in 5 Americans have a diagnosable mental health problem. The Centre for Prevention and Health estimates that mental illness (including substance abuse) costs employers between $79 and $109 billion each year. Absenteeism, alone, costs American companies an estimated $23 billion.
  • In Canada 500,000 Canadians a day call in sick to work due to mental health illness with 20% of the population experiencing a mental health problem or illness each year. 1 in 2 Canadians will experience a mental health issue before they reach 40.
  • In the UK the prevalence of mental health issues are rising with figures suggesting that 65% of the population have experienced a mental health problem. 300,000 people at work with a long term mental health problem lose their jobs each year. UK employers experience £33 billion and £42 billion each year in losses, with over half the costs coming from presenteeism-when individuals are less productive due to poor mental health in work.

For businesses still unsure if mental health is really a key concern, the above data is certainly a push to establish best practice mental health procedures within and outside the board room. So how can your company face this challenge head on?

MENTAL HEALTH in the c suitE


Health insurance provider Bupa, in a recent survey this year, found that mental health has become a boardroom priority for 63% of law firms. 28% of law firms surveyed found that mental health within the legal industry affected their employees more than physical illness. Implementing mental health managerial training at C-suite to inform and educate within and outside the board room is a firm first step in the right direction. This knowledge can then be related to employees to strengthen companywide culture.

Consulting firm Deloitte in their analysis of companies who have invested in improving mental health at work, saw consistently a positive return on investment. The Australian Fire Service, for example, who implemented a manager mental health training programme found it lead to reduced levels of absenteeism and “an associated return on investment of £9.98 for each pound spent on this training”.


Fostering a culture of openness around mental health makes good business sense, particularly when illness is affecting those at C-Suite and managerial level. Why? Because research has proven that employees who conceal their issues cost companies greatly.

London School of Economics researcher Sara Evans-Lacko, who is an expert on depression in the workplace, found in a diverse study carried out in 8 countries worldwide,  that 70% of people with mental illnesses conceal their challenges from co-workers and managers. The study found that employees who are highly educated have a more negative impact in the workplace if they remain there while depressed. Because they are more likely to assume managerial and directorship roles, the ripple effects of their illness is felt particularly by junior staff.

In terms of depression alone, Evans-Lacko found that on average 1.2% of a country’s GPD is lost due to workers with depression attending work while unwell (i.e. presenteeism). The collective cost to the eight countries in her study was £207 billion. The study data found that the costs of employees attending work while dealing with depression is 5-10 times higher than those who take time off work to recover.

This study should motivate businesses to encourage employees at every level to encourage employees do not come to work when ill. At every level, especially in the C-suite, this is pertinent. Board members who face highly demanding tasks risk exacerbating their health and their work. A Canadian study found that 68% of employees with mental health issues could only maintain their optimal performance for less than 70% of their workday.


Lacko-Evans advises that the most vital findings from her study was the importance of having active support from management. At C-suite level this premise remains the same. Engaging with mental health in the workplace is vital, rather than directing employees elsewhere, i.e. to see a health professional. She recommends companies adopt “well-being programmes and anti-stress days”, as well as really low cost “mindfulness and meditation workshops”, which along with exercise sessions relieve stress and anxiety. These suggestions can be incorporated into office hours.


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