HEALTH WORK­ERS AT RISK FOR MEN­TAL ILL­NESS

Pro­fes­sion needs to adopt na­tional stan­dards, writes Hazel Mag­nussen.

Edmonton Journal - - LETTERS -

More com­plex care needs of an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion are tak­ing a toll

“Each week, 500,000 Cana­di­ans will not go to work due to men­tal ill­ness.”

With that in mind, the Cana­dian Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion Work­ing Stronger Con­fer­ence pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity for em­ploy­ers, em­ploy­ees, unions, oc­cu­pa­tion­al­health, em­ployee-as­sis­tance and hu­man-re­sources per­son­nel to ex­plore ways to cre­ate health­ier, stronger work­places.

Ac­cord­ing to Dr. Tyler Amell, spe­cial­ist in strate­gic and in­te­grated work­place health and pro­duc­tiv­ity, the pro­mo­tion of psy­cho­log­i­cal health in the work­place is not only the mo­rally right thing to do, it is nec­es­sary for pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Speak­ing about de­pres­sion, a lead­ing cause of dis­abil­ity claims, Dr. Pratap Chokka, clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor and con­sul­tant psy­chi­a­trist, stressed the im­por­tance of early in­ter­ven­tion and sup­port for af­fected em­ploy­ees.

As a re­tired health pro­fes­sional with ex­pe­ri­ence of work­place stresses, I pre­sented a con­cur­rent ses­sion on pro­mot­ing men­tal health in health-care work­places. Although the con­fer­ence sub­theme of Equip­ping Al­ber­tans for Bet­ter Work­place Men­tal Health ap­plies to all work­places, the health of health-care work­ers war­rants spe­cial at­ten­tion.

A 2015 re­port by the Cana­dian Health Care As­so­ci­a­tion noted that “health care work­ers are 1.5 times more likely to be off work due to ill­ness or dis­abil­ity than peo­ple in all other sec­tors.” It high­lights the preva­lence of chronic stress and burnout that con­trib­ute to men­tal-health con­di­tions, such as de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, sub­stance abuse and even sui­cide.

A 2006 na­tional sur­vey of nurses re­vealed that 31 per cent of nurses sur­veyed re­ported el­e­vated lev­els of psy­cho­log­i­cal strain. Sixty per cent of reg­is­tered nurses re­spond­ing to a 2013 CBC sur­vey re­ported that staff short­ages were af­fect­ing pa­tient care and 40 per cent of nurses were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing burnout. In a cur­rent Cana­dian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion sur­vey of physi­cians and med­i­cal res­i­dents, more than one in four re­ported high lev­els of burnout.

A 2017 study of the health of health care work­ers in Cana­dian nurs­ing homes and pe­di­atric hos­pi­tals re­ported that more com­plex care needs of an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion in hos­pi­tals and sub­a­cute set­tings are tak­ing a toll on the phys­i­cal and men­tal health of health care work­ers.

Heavy work­loads, chronic­ity of care, in­creas­ing acu­ity of care, ex­po­sure to trauma, bul­ly­ing and other forms of vi­o­lence along with moral con­flicts present chal­lenges that af­fect the health and well-be­ing of health-care work­ers.

Even as they tend to their pa­tients, health-care pro­fes­sion­als are ob­li­gated to main­tain their own health and fit­ness to prac­tise, but may be ashamed to ad­mit hav­ing men­tal health prob­lems them­selves and/or be fear­ful about job se­cu­rity.

Work­place sys­temic, in­ter­per­sonal and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues may be the source of, or ex­ac­er­bate em­ployee men­tal health prob­lems. What then, is a work­place or­ga­ni­za­tion’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure psy­cho­log­i­cal health and safety for its work­ers?

The Na­tional Stan­dard for Psy­cho­log­i­cal Health and Safety in the Work­place, de­vel­oped in 2013, pro­vides such guid­ance for work­places. De­scrib­ing the con­text of the stan­dard, An­nex A of the doc­u­ment notes that cer­tain hu­man needs, such as self­worth, so­cial jus­tice, phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal safety must be con­sid­ered when im­ple­ment­ing the stan­dard.

Thir­teen work­place fac­tors af­fect­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal health and safety are: or­ga­ni­za­tional cul­ture; psy­cho­log­i­cal and so­cial sup­port; clear lead­er­ship and ex­pec­ta­tions; ci­vil­ity and re­spect; psy­cho­log­i­cal de­mands; growth and de­vel­op­ment; recog­ni­tion and re­ward; in­volve­ment and in­flu­ence; work­load man­age­ment; en­gage­ment; bal­ance; psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­tec­tion and pro­tec­tion of phys­i­cal safety.

When these fac­tors are not ad­dressed, work­ers are at risk for psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress. The Cana­dian Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion and Fed­er­a­tion of Nurses unions rec­om­mend that health care em­ploy­ers adopt the stan­dard.

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