NSW flags dual approach to mental health strategy

NSW flags dual approach to mental health strategy
By Hannah Dixon on 10 October 2017
A SafeWork NSW discussion paper has flagged a “dual approach” by developing both a risk-based approach and also defining and identifying mentally healthy workplaces.

The paper was released in the lead-up to a NSW government summit aimed at developing a statewide strategy to improve mental health in the workplace. 'Sydney Summit: Mentally healthy workplaces in NSW' will be held in early November and will consult with key stakeholders.
“Mental health compliance within the Act is difficult to define, leaving many businesses struggling to know what is required,” the paper said. 
“A workplace mental health strategy must go beyond targeting compliance with individual psychosocial risks and clearly articulate what is required to create a mentally healthy workplace and why it is required.”
The report noted that a traditional risk-based approach alone was not enough. “If businesses adopt a risk-based approach to mental health in the workplace, there may be negative unintended consequences, such as tacit encouragement of recruitment screening, exiting workers who are experiencing mental ill-health and therefore increasing discrimination,” the report said.
The dual approach includes:
  • identifying the key psychosocial risks, protective factors and raising awareness of the legal obligations to provide a psychologically safe workplace, and
  • identifying the characteristics of a mentally healthy workplace and good job design and providing workplaces with practical, best practice advice on how to implement these.

Other measures

The report also flags a NSW workplace mental health benchmarking tool to quantify the state of business’ current mental health. The draft tool was developed with a panel of workplace mental health experts and advocates and includes interventions to help businesses move from one level to the next.
A list of potential interventions were also included in the report including: 
  • collection and analysis of baseline data, including use of surveys
  • additional research in areas of gaps in knowledge
  • a targeted or mass awareness/behaviour change campaign
  • a statement of commitment to create mentally healthy workplaces 
  • a website and free, online portal for workplaces with universal and tailored resources and tools for workplaces, small business and workers 
  • tailored workplace safety advice (webinars, seminars, field visits)
  • subsidised training
  • an innovation fund for new workplace initiatives, and 
  • incentives, awards and recognition for businesses that demonstrate mentally healthy workplaces.
The eventual strategy will monitor the program by identifying lead indicators such as workers compensation claims, changes in attitudes and changes in behaviour. However, it noted a successful campaign may cause an increase in claims.

“Due to stigma and under-reporting of work related mental illness, any successful awareness or behaviour change campaign is likely to lead to an increase in reporting, and potentially claims, prior to any medium- to long-term reduction in duration and severity of mental illness in the workplace,” the report said.

Focus on mental health

The discussion paper and summit are part of SafeWork NSW’s Work Health and Safety Roadmap for NSW 2022. The authority is aiming to reduce serious work-related injuries and illnesses, including mental illnesses, by 30 per cent.

The NSW government also aims to shift the focus of mental health care from hospitals to the community, as part of its Living Well reform.
 “Mental illness does not discriminate and can touch the lives of people anywhere, which is why prevention and early intervention strategies are key, and the workplace should not be an exception,” Minister for Mental Health, Tanya Davies said. 
“This Mentally Healthy Workplaces strategy further demonstrates the NSW government’s commitment to improving mental health across the state.”
See also: NSW brainstorms new mental health strategy
Today is World Mental Health Day with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilising efforts in support of mental health.


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