Good, but very limited, advice on workplace mental health

Member magazines, those magazines included in a professional’s membership, are an important source of information. Members of the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, for instance, receive the RoyalAuto magazine which is really the primary source of information on changes to road rules. Most occupational health and safety (OHS) associations have internal magazines for a similarly targeted audience. Australian accountants have the In The Black magazine.

Recently In The Black published an article about mental health at work titled “Get smart with mental health”. No background to the author, Helen Hawkes, was provided and no references were included for the data used to support statements about the importance of the mental health. Context and sources are important to all articles but arguably moreso for member magazines and, especially, for professionals like accountants who can have a major impact on how OHS is managed.

Much of the information in the article would be familiar to OHS professionals – Return on Investment, the cost of Presenteeism as a percentage of payroll…. What is almost entirely missing is advice on how to prevent mental ill-health from occurring in the first place, and there is no mention of any of the OHS guidance in this area published by Safe Work Australia.

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Workplace sexual harassment inquiry releases more submissions

The National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces has released another block of public submissions. many of them involve examples of horrible harassment and psychological harm, but several offer research, suggestions for improvement and, a little bit of, prevention.

Those making the recently released submissions seem to be realising that the inquiry’s terms of reference focuses on Australian workplaces.

Non-disclosure agreements and communication barriers

One submission is from Professor Judith Bessant, AM, of RMIT University (Submission 188) in which she addresses the application of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). NDAs have been in the press lately as some of those who experienced sexual harassment were unable to make submissions to this Inquiry without contravening the NDA they had with their employer. Professor Bessant asserts that

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The mental health “one in five” statistic examined for validity

This blog has a policy of linking to source documents wherever possible. Recently I investigated the origin of the statement, and its variations:

“In a 12 month period, 20 per cent of Australians will experience a mental health condition.”

Clarity on this is going to be important as Australia has several formal inquiries relating to mental health and this statement often crops up in strategy documents and policies related to occupational health and safety (OHS).

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Royal Commission into Mental Health

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The Victorian Government has instigated a Royal Commission into Mental Health. At the moment it is receiving submissions to assist it in developing the Terms of Reference. This is an odd process that delays the Commission’s start and is giving the impression that the Commission has already commenced.

However, it is important that occupational health and safety (OHS) advocates become deeply involved in this Royal Commission as psychological harm in the workplace, and caused by the workplace, is a hazard that employers are obliged to try to eliminate. If the workplace context of mental health is not overtly included in the Commission’s Terms of Reference, we will miss a major opportunity for the changes required to prevent psychological incidents and will likely remain with only the symptomatic relief offered by most workplace wellbeing strategies and products.

On the Submissions website, I prioritised “Prevention and Early Intervention” and the “Prevent of Suicide” as my top priorities and make these concise suggestions.

Are there any additional themes that should be included in the terms of reference for the Royal Commission into Mental Health?

It is vital that the issue of Prevention is included in the terms of reference as investment in and attention to prevention has been shown to be the best way to achieve the most return on investment.

The workplace health and safety context should also be mentioned as work can create psychological harm but can also have benefits by providing people with a purpose as well as an independent income.

I encourage all SafetyAtWorkBlog readers who are concerned about workplace psychosocial hazards to visit the submission web page so that the Commission understands the importance that occupational health and safety has in preventing harm.

Kevin Jones

Men’s Health podcast

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Day 1 of the Australian Labor Party conference was fascinating but unsatisfying in terms of debate on occupational health and safety matters so I spoke with one of the many exhibitors at the conference.

Glen Poole is the CEO of the Australian Men’s Health Forum and the podcast below includes a brief discussion of the importance of men’s health and the relevance of the workplace in generating and managing workplace mental health.

Kevin Jones