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Early intervention approaches to mental health in the workplace

1 Dec 2017 by  Paul Gordon

Mental health in the workplace is an extremely important, yet complex and often misunderstood issue. However the good news is that as we grow our understanding of the risk factors that contribute to mental health disorders, new techniques and tools are emerging to address early intervention, prevention and treatment.

Although there is no ‘magic bullet’, the movement towards early intervention and prevention is a positive step towards mitigating and preventing mental health conditions before they become an organisational issue.

Growing our understanding of workplace and individual risk factors

Speaking at the 2017 Aon Health Symposium, Associate Professor Samuel Harvey from Black Dog Institute addressed the correlation between workplace and mental health. Although focusing on our valued healthcare professionals, the issues and approaches discussed also have relevance for workplaces outside of the healthcare industry.

Both workplace and individual factors are seen to interact and contribute to adverse outcomes; such as increased risk of mental illness, long-term sickness and workplace absence.

From a workplace perspective, a link between how demanding your job is and your level of control over decision-making (‘job strain’) has been observed – with a high demand, low control combination associated with particularly high risk.

On an individual level, contributing factors include coping styles, personality, your perception of health / vulnerability, attitude and even parental work history.

Moving towards early intervention and holistic solutions

Associate Professor Samuel Harvey outlined a model overlaying the stages of an individual’s mental health journey with practical, proactive workplace prevention and holistic treatment strategies to support employees.

Stage 1: Healthy worker (Primary prevention)

  • A risk algorithm has been developed for men which predicts propensity for developing common mental disorders, and allows interventions to be targeted.

  • Resilience training such as RAW (rawmindcoach.com) promote ‘mental fitness, not illness’ and help prevent mental illness by focusing on developing practical skills.

Stage 2: Symptomatic or at risk worker (Secondary prevention)

  • With this stage focused on helping people get well early, Manager training such as Aon’s Mental Health First Aid training courses can reduce absences and compensation claims by helping managers build skills and confidence in identifying and communicating with employees suffering from mental illness.

  • A range of digital resources such as online training and smartphone apps are being developed, to support managers and assist in early treatment of people with established symptoms and risk factors.

Stage 3: Mental illness (Tertiary prevention)

  • Aimed at treating rehabilitation and symptoms early; world-first guidelines into diagnosis and treatment of PTSD for first responders have been developed, along with materials for clinicians and emergency service workers.

As the evidence grows and our understanding of mental health continues to develop, practical tools to help workplaces and individuals proactively manage their mental health are being developed to support healthcare workers, while also being adapted for workplaces outside of the health industry.

Aon  is proud to support the Black Dog Institute, a national not for profit organisation and a medical research institute which aims to improve the lives of people affected by mental illness.

Paul Gordon

Paul Gordon is a Principal at Aon Hewitt. With over 20 years’ experience in wealth management and consulting roles, Paul has worked extensively with corporations to engage and get the best from key talent through people focussed initiatives.

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