Identifying work-related mental health

Recently the Medical Journal of Australia published new guidelines for general practitioners (GPs) on how to identify work-related mental health conditions (MHC). This is vital information as GPs are often the first opportunity where mental health conditions can be identified or confirmed. It also assists occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals by acknowledging the role of work in the positive and negative mental health of workers.

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Medical and OHS sectors must start speaking the same language on mental health

For many years, the Australian medical has been supportive of a “Health Benefits of Good Work” (HBGW) initiative. This initiative, started in 2010, is directly relevant to how Australia is determining its mental health policy and strategies especially as they relate to workplaces. The initiative was developed by:

“…. the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM) of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP). This initiative is based on compelling Australasian and international evidence that good work is beneficial to people’s health and wellbeing and that long term work absence, work disability and unemployment generally have a negative impact on health and wellbeing.”

This initiative can be seen behind many of the public statements about the mental health status of the unemployed as this sits within the public health and the social welfare sectors, but it is rarely mentioned by those providing occupational health and safety (OHS) advice.

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Burnout, self-advocacy and more

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SafetyAtWorkBlog’s initial approach to Justine Alter, Psychologist and co-director of Transitioning Well. on the prevention of Burnout illicited the following response. It deserved further exploration so Alter was sent a further set of questions leading to useful answers.

“Prevention strategies are considered to be the most effective approach for addressing workplace burnout, and there are a number of things that workers can do to minimise the risk:   

– Recognise the importance of a work-life balance ensuring that you get some recovery time
– Prioritise your time. Identify what is important, what can wait, and what can be delegated to others
– Self-advocacy. This can be difficult, however thinking about the importance of your mental and emotional health may help you advocate better for yourself
– Lead by example: utilise any flexible leave policies and opportunities that your company may provide
– Remain aware of resources that are available through your workplace – EAP, counselling, etc.  Consider making these resources available if they aren’t already.”

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The need for evidence in mental health inquiry

Workplaces and employers have not been totally absent from Victoria’s Royal Commission into Mental Health SystemsPublic Hearings and the Commissioners have asked about the workplace context several times but it sounds like they are asking the wrong people or not challenging enough. For instance, on Day One when Stigma was a theme, the Commission asked Dr Michelle Blanchard of SANE Australia:

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