Over the last couple of months, SafetyAtWorkBlog has written several articles on the psychosocial workplace hazard of depression, stress and anxiety.
Science Friday is a regular feature of the NPR program, Talk of the Nation in the United States. Last Friday, it focussed on depression. Its speakers talked about how the diagnosis of depression has changed over the decades, sometimes to match the range of depression medications available.
Importantly there is a differentiation between depression and mental health. (Psychosocial disorders doesn’t seem to be a term used outside of OHS) Depression is slowly becoming the collective term for sad, melancholy, unhappy, miserable, anxious………. It is very important for workplace safety professionals to try to pierce the fug of depression marketing so that one is not distracted into the trap of treating workers for a personal problem rather than preventing the hazard through changing organisational attitudes.
In many ways, companies are being pushed to take the easy way out and shift the blame for poor organisational practices and planning to the employees. In this century, many companies are “blaming the worker for their mental health issues in the same way that workers were blamed for physical injuries in the last few decades.
Many of the comments in Science Friday describe antidepressants almost as the “soma” from the novel Brave New World, a novel widely included in the Australian high school syllabus in the 1970s.
There is a potential parallel between the condoning of amphetamine use in the trucking industry and antidepressants in non-transport workplaces. Australia’s trucking industry has been able to redirect the safety focus from drug taking by drivers to the institutional structures and pressures that meant a delivery job could not be completed without the need for stimulants and unsafe practices.
Thankfully one of the Science Friday speakers does acknowledge that the persistent use of antidepressants could originate from social issues “rather than an epidemic of brain pathology”. The discussion then discusses the issue of internet addiction and depression and postulates that these two elements may both be indicative of a wider social phenomenon.
Safety professionals have nowhere near enough time to be experts in all the areas that they should be able to draw upon in order to make, or advise, the best safety decisions they can. However, there is no excuse for not being aware of the issues so that these options can be considered when determining a specific course of action in the workplace.