Small steps in acknowledging workplace psychosocial risks

Australian workplaces need more diversity in their workforce, including workers affected by psychosocial illnesses and conditions. Recently Mental Health Australia released a position statement on employment and mental health.

The statement promoted increased employment opportunities but also touched on the role of occupational health and safety (OHS).

It lists the elements of a mentally healthy workplace:

“Mentally healthy work environments are characterised by positive workplace culture; where stress and other risks to mental health are managed; people with mental health conditions are supported; and where there is a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination.”

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And significantly referenced Safe Work Australia’s Model Code of Practice on managing psychosocial hazards at work. This is a welcome and rare mention of OHS advice in a mental health publication.

It also mentions the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement, a document that offers more promise than results in the workplace at the moment

“Through the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement, governments have committed to holistic approaches to mental health and suicide prevention and identified workplaces as a priority area. In this Agreement, governments have committed to a range of actions to promote mentally healthy and psychologically safe workplaces.”

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What is meant by a “holistic” approach is unclear, but it is unlikely to include recommending the structural reforms needed to achieve sustainable changes in workplace cultures, such as a living wage and job security.

The Position Statement acknowledges that work is an activity that increases mental health through socialisation, self-esteem, confidence and more. One of the challenges is to make sure that workplaces are ready to accept workers from diverse backgrounds and that workplace cultures do not exacerbate illnesses or psychological health conditions.

Mentioning the National Code is a positive, but Mental Health Australia should also get behind the regulatory changes on psychosocial risks in the workplace. It is in a strong position to inform its mental health network that the OHS obligations have been strengthened.

Kevin Jones

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