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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When guidance is unhelpful

Some organisations struggle to understand the prevention of harm.  In September 2018 the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) released its “People Managers’ Guide to Mental Health“. The guide is intended to address

“…the whole lifecycle of employment, from recruitment, through keeping people well and managing a disability or ill health at work, to supporting people to return to work after a period of absence.” (page 3)

It includes the prevention of psychological harm but in words and phrases that are very unhelpful. 

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The US discovers job strain and suicide

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently written about suicide prevention and the organisational structures that can contribute to poor mental health.  The prominence of the CDC should result in a spate of media reports about this NIOSH Science Blog article.

Evidence of the link between the two has been building in Australia for some time through the work of several researchers. The CDC/NIOSH draws on

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An iron fist in a velvet glove to HR over psych claims

Dr Rebecca Michalak has just published an extraordinary article calling on the Human Resources profession and many others to take a good, hard look at how they treat workers who may have been subjected to psychological pressures at work.

Human Resources personnel could feel particularly hard done by but Michalak stresses that there are many players in the process of creating and managing psychologically healthy workplace and of not adequately managing psychologically injured workers.  She makes her proposition clear up front:

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Arts Wellbeing Collective gets a future

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In November 2017, SafetyAtWorkBlog wrote about a pilot occupational health and safety (OHS) and wellness program created by the Victorian Arts Centre.  At the time the future of this very good program was in doubt as continuing funding was not available.

On August 30 2018, Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, pledged some funding to the Arts Wellbeing Collective.  How much funding has not been revealed but providing a future for the program is a sound OHS and political move.

A major attraction of the Arts Wellbeing Collective is that it was an initiative from outside the established OHS and Human Resources networks.  This cuts out a lot of baggage but also risks acting without an understanding of what has gone before.

Perhaps more importantly, this program is not a response to the Weinstein issues or the #metoo agenda.  It was developed prior to both of these events but will benefit from the profiles these tragedies have created. All strength to it.

Kevin Jones