The occupational context of burnout is largely missed in this new book about exhaustion

Burnout continues to have its moment in the sun. It is the cover story of the February 2024 edition of Psychology Today and is a major theme in a new book about exhaustion. The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) declaration of burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” is downplayed or ignored in both publications.

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Mental Health First Aid is not a harm prevention strategy

Courses in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) are increasingly popular in Australia as employers struggle to understand their (new) occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations to provide psychologically safe and healthy work environments. However, MHFA and OHS are fundamentally incompatible.

MHFA is an intervention program, while OHS requires prevention. So, employers who send staff to MHFA intending to comply with their OHS obligations are deluded.

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Let’s talk about work-related suicide

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has been fairly successful in reducing the frequency and numbers of traumatic workplace injuries largely because such injuries cannot be hidden or may occur in front of others and increasingly on video. It is a sad reality that work-related deaths generate change and progress. Sometimes the more deaths, the more significant that change or, the quicker that change occurs. However, it is even sadder that change often requires a death.

Note: this article discusses suicide.

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Mental confusion

Recently, Safe Work Australia published exciting and important data about mental health at work. The data seems to support the assertion that psychosocial hazards at work are a significant risk, but I remain confused. I asked SWA to help unconfuse me and they have tried.

One of the biggest handicaps that occupational health and safety (OHS) has experienced over decades is translating data and research into terms and concepts that the layperson (of which I claim to be) can understand. OHS communication is improving, but more effort is needed.

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Suicide prevention needs more than business as usual

That suicide is related to workplace mental health pressures and illnesses is undisputed, but the more independent analysis on the topic, the more complex the causes become. Sometimes, suicide can be a conscious decision, still due to socioeconomic factors but factors that are not necessarily diagnosed or treated with mental health conditions.

[This article discusses suicide risks]

This reality complicates, and should complicate, strategies for the prevention of suicide. Recently, Australia’s National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) submitted its pre-budget wishlist to the government. This submission included action on suicide and mental health but in traditional ways.

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Moral distress = moral injury = workplace mental ill-health = burnout.

On December 29 2023, The Guardian newspaper’s cover story was about doctors in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service experiencing high rates of “moral distress”. It is common for hospitals and health care services to consider themselves as workplaces with unique hazards rather than suffering similar occupational health and safety (OHS) challenges to all other workplaces. What makes the OHS challenge so significant in the NHS is the size of the challenge rather than its nature or cause.

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An industrial relations perspective on psychosocial hazards

The prevention of workplace psychosocial hazards will be an increasing issue of concern and debate in 2024 as more Australian jurisdictions re-emphasize the application of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws to this insidious hazard.  That debate requires a broad range of voices to better understand prevention strategies and to assess existing strategies that have failed or impeded progress.  Emeritus Professor Michael Quinlan is one such voice, especially in his recent article, “Psychosocial Hazards: An Overview and Industrial Relations Perspective”.

[Note this article discusses work-related suicide]

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