Wriedt provides context of her depression

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Former Tasmanian MP, Paul Wriedt, has provided an Australian Sunday newspaper with a long article that provides the context for her suicide attempt, depression and career implosion.  The full article is well worth reading and shows the combination of factors that led to her suicide attempt.

Excessive workload is mentioned several times and, although it is only one of the confluence of factors, the workloads and working hours of politicians remain untreated elements of the health and wellbeing of important social p0licy decision-makers.

If, as many safety advocates profess, safety is led from the top, politicians are doing the safety profession a disservice by not structuring their work environments and schedules to ensure a healthy workplace.

One point is not mentioned in the article.  Paula Wriedt is a spokesperson for beyondblue, the most prominent depression-related organisation in Australian.  In fact Ms Wriedt is one of the organisation’s recent “ambassadors”.

Beyondblue has advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that the Sunday Herald-Sun article was Ms Wriedt’s own work and that beyondblue was not aware of the article before publication.

The beyondblue spokesperson said that the organisation is expanding its pool of ambassadors which should be of particular interest to those working in the workplace health sector.  Ambassadors operate on a volunteer basis and may be eligible for the reimbursement of costs in specific circumstances.

[Hm, voluntary ambassadors lobbying on behalf of a health issue on a voluntary basis.  Perhaps the safety profession could offer a similar “outreach program”]

Ms Wriedt was not obliged to mention beyondblue in the article and it is clear that she sees public discussion on depression issues to be one of her own career goals, but it would have been appropriate to mention her relationship, particularly as she is a beyondblue ambassador.

Kevin Jones

A sort-of resolution for Paula Wriedt

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Paula Wriedt, a Tasmanian Member of Parliament who attempted suicide in August 2008, resigned on 18 January 2009.  According to her media statement

“I have made a significant recovery since my hospitalisation in August, but I believe it is in my best interests, and the interests of my family, to concentrate on improving my health away from the daily pressures of being a member of Parliament.

“This illness has had a significant impact on my life.

“The many demands I faced last year, on both a professional and personal level, meant I neglected to take stock of my health until it was too late.

“During this time, I made a mistake by forming an inappropriate relationship with a member of my staff. This had significant implications for the families involved, and I am not proud of my actions.

“I deeply regret the hurt that has been caused by this.”

She goes on to speak positively of undertaking meaningful work outside of politics.  It is hoped that Paula does not feel obliged to follow other politicians into promoting depression support services.  For most Australians Paula Wriedt will be associated with her affair and suicide attempt.  Tasmanians should remember her as a good parliamentarian, as mentioned by the current Premier David Bartlett (who is only slightly older than Paula at 41), and for her achievements in the education portfolio.  

Kevin Jones

Other post concerning Paula’s situation are available by searching for “Wriedt” in the field below.

Workplace depression approaches are too narrow

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Further to other SafetyAtWorkBlog posts concerning Ms Paula Wriedt’s sacking, Ms Wriedt has issued a statement expressing her disappointment at Premier David Bartlett’s decision.

One comment from a newspaper columnist struck me as odd but worthy of note.  The columnist said that Paula Wriedt’s public statements have followed the line pushed by beyondblue, a depression support and lobby group.  I have had no dealings with beyondblue but note that newspaper articles often end with “For further information on depression contact…..” similarly television news reports.

beyondblue has been a spectacular success in self-promotion and, hopefully, increasing awareness of depression.  In the context of the Premier’s decision on Paula Wriedt, David Bartlett contacted the chair of beyondblue (and former Victorian Premier) Jeff Kennett, prior to his decision.  The Weekend Australian newspaper reported

“I have not taken this decision lightly; in fact, decisions don’t come any tougher than this,” Mr Bartlett said. He received support from former Victorian Liberal premier Jeff Kennett, the chairman of depression support group Beyondblue.

After speaking to Mr Bartlett, Mr Kennett told The Weekend Australian he believed the decision was a very tough call for the Premier, but added: “When you balance up all his responsibilities, the correct one. It might just be what Paula needs to start rebuilding her health.  That is, she doesn’t have other ministerial responsibilities now and she can now focus more directly on her recovery.”

beyondblue does admirable work and has acheived much but it is dominating the discussions on psychosocial issues in the workplace.  It is difficult for other groups to raise matters that are just as relevant to the workplace, if not more so, such as occupational violence, stress, dignity at work, and so on.

We are not yet clear on all the circumstances of Paula Wriedt’s suicide attempt, and we may never know.  We do not know if work stresses or private stresses caused her self-harm but that is not necessarily the point.  Occupational health and safety long ago left the confines of the workplace and controlling workplace hazards, particularly psychosocial issues, needs a bigger canvas.  There must be an approach that assists the individual in work and non-work contexts. 

Some countries and States are trying this through work/life balance initiatives but the approaches are usually skewed to focus on interventions on the individual rather than looking at the social structures.  In OHS we look at the “system of work” to determine the most effective interventions.  To affect true and lasting change, we must apply the “system of living”.  We must be careful not to over-emphasise the individual and be distracted from the cultural initiatives.

Politician who attempted suicide is “sacked”

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In early August 2008, Paula Wriedt, Tasmanian MP, tried to commit suicide.  Six weeks later the Tasmanian Premier has sacked her from Cabinet, according to an ABC report.

Premier David Bartlett denies this is a sacking, more a “withdrawal of commission”.  He says it is for the good of the government and for the good of Ms Wriedt.

Ms Wriedt was asked to resign her Cabinet position but the Premier says she was “not in a position to make such a decision”.

An audio interview with the Premier put to him that his decision was “despicable” and “reflects the way the state deals with people with mental health problems”.

Ms Wriedt’s suicide attempt had already raised discussion on the workplace issues of stress, compensation, workloads and mental health.  The listener’s question in the audio interview will reflect the majority of the community’s response to the Premier’s decision and Premier Bartlett will have a difficult time explaining how his decision was for Ms Wriedt’s benefit.

Ms Wriedt’s current situation and future career decisions will provide an interesting illustration on how the public service and Tasmanian politics manages an employee with mental health issues, particularly when, on OHS matters, the public service should be exemplars.