Fels sets the scene for inquiries into workplace mental health

Earlier this week former chair of the Australian Government’s National Mental Health Commission, Allan Fels (pictured right) addressed a lunch hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia.  The topicality of his presentation stemmed from two major inquiries into mental health – one by the Federal Government and undertaken by the Productivity Commission (PC), the other is a Royal Commission from the Victorian Government.  The breadth of the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the PC inquiry has generated a very broad level of interest across the social spectrum.  The Royal Commission ToR are yet to be released.

Fels acknowledged the role that workplaces have in addressing mental health

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Productivity Commission sets stage for inquiry into mental health

The Australian Government has released the terms of reference into its Productivity Commission inquiry into mental health.  The inquiry has broad aims that clearly include occupational health and safety (OHS) and may set some evidence challenges for some of those in the workplace wellbeing sector:

“It will look at how governments across Australia, employers, professional and community groups in healthcare, education, employment, social services, housing and justice can contribute to improving mental health for people of all ages and cultural backgrounds.” (emphasis added)

The Treasurer Josh Frydenberg MP has written that

“the Commission should consider the role of mental health in supporting economic participation, enhancing productivity and economic growth.”

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The systemic causes of poor mental health may get long-awaited attention

Source: istockphoto

Australia’s national government has announced an inquiry into mental health to be conducted by the Productivity Commission.  The Victorian Government has promised a Royal Commission into Mental Health as part of its election pledge. New South Wales has a five-year Mentally Healthy Workplaces Strategy. All of these initiatives are being applauded by the mental health advocates but two of them have yet to specify their terms of reference or their timelines for delivery, making it difficult to determine what role workplaces, workers and employers will have.

There is also a political risk that community expectations or the evidence base changes during the delivery period.  Workplace mental health seems particularly susceptible to this risk at the moment.

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The importance of evidence in addressing workplace mental health issues

At the recent Scientific Meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine (ANZSOM), Allison Milner stepped in for an ill Tony La Montagne and added value to his intended presentation on workplace mental health. This meeting is different from other conferences in one particular way, in relies on evidence and not marketing for its presentations.  This difference made Milner’s presentation very powerful.

Milner set the scene with a broad picture of mental health:

“1 in 5 Australians have a mental illness, which equivalates to about 1.5 million.  And over 3000 people lose their life to suicide every year, and the vast majority of these people being men.  But suicide affects far more people than those people who attempt or sadly lose their life.  It affects their work colleagues, it affects people in our community and it affects our family.”

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Structural v Individual approaches to preventing psychological harm persist

At the end of September 2018 the Australian Psychological Society held its 2018 Congress.  As conferences do, various media statements are released to generate interest in the speakers.  One caught the attention of this blog.  It was released on September 25 2018, and was called:

“Resilience isn’t enough to combat the effects of burnout, world renowned psychology expert says”

This sounded like it may look closely at the prevention of harm and SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to interview that world-renowned psychology expert,

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