Workplace mental health
The Black Dog Institute is proud to host the world-leading Workplace Mental Health Research Program led by consultant psychiatrist and senior researcher Associate Professor Samuel Harvey. Mental illness is now the leading cause of sickness absence and long term work incapacity in the developed world. Mental illness can have significant impacts on productivity, staff morale and organisational performance.
The Workplace Mental Health Research Program was established by the University of NSW in partnership with the Black Dog Institute and NSW Ministry of Health. The main aim of this program is to develop research focused on the mental health needs of NSW frontline emergency workers (police officers, ambulance officers and fire fighters). In addition to the work with the emergency services, the team are also developing a number of other projects focused on better understanding the link between other types of work and mental health.
Research shows that mental illness is now the leading cause of sickness absence and long term work incapacity in the developed world. It costs the Australian economy over $12 billion per year in lost productivity and has significant impacts on staff morale and organisational performance. The research team considers the role work may have in precipitating or preventing mental illness, the occupational outcomes for those already suffering from mental disorders, predictors of sickness absence and workplace based interventions for both the treatment and prevention of mental disorders.
The workplace is a prime location for mental health prevention and interventions, particularly for men. The Well@Work Program aims to improve the mental health of Australian men in the workplace through the development of a new e-health technologies. The School of Psychiatry UNSW, University of Sydney and the Black Dog Institute have been working together with industry partners from a range of sectors, including the emergency services, to develop and test novel ways for men to use smart phone applications to screen themselves for both mental health symptoms and risk factors.
Amongst both emergency workers and in the general population there is considerable individual difference in rates of sickness absence. It is suspected that part of the reason for this relates to factors such as perceived vulnerability, individual reactions to symptoms, the work environment and the individual’s attitudes to work and employment. Together with colleagues from King’s College London, the team have developed a new scale that aims to test these non-health predictors of sickness absence. They will use parts of this new scale in an ongoing cohort study of new recruits to Fire and Rescue NSW in order to test how these factors impact the psychological resilience of emergency workers.
Symptomatic treatments for common mental disorders do not necessarily lead to improved occupational outcomes. The team, with partners, have developed and are testing a new type of cognitive behavioural therapy that includes a specific focus on work and occupational functioning from the very beginning of treatment.
The Resilience at Work (RAW) Mindfulness Program is a new online mental health initiative aimed at developing psychological resilience amongst emergency workers. The RAW Mindfulness program teaches firefighters a set of core skills and strategies derived from the principles theoretically underpinning Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Mindfulness based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT). To our knowledge this is the first online mindfulness-based resilience program specifically aimed at protecting and improving mental health outcomes for emergency workers.
The team are utilising data collected on 816 fire fighters in NSW to compare the rates of somatic symptoms in emergency workers with and without PTSD and to examine if these relationship change as emergency workers get older.
Police officers are at great risk of developing mental illnesses due to the nature of their work. The team is working with the NSW Police Force to develop a mental health screening tool.
Firefighters are faced with potentially traumatic incidents on a regular basis, however the role of multiple traumas on mental health sequelae other than PTSD is unclear. The team have examined the prevalence of a range of mental health problems, such as depression and alcohol misuse, amongst both current and retired firefighters in New South Wales.
The Black Dog Institute Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing Program integrates research findings with clinical best practice and the perspective of lived experience to increase workplace resilience and empower staff and management to proactively address the mental health of themselves and their fellow workers.
Focusing on prevention, our skills-based workshops are delivered by experienced clinical facilitators and address issues at the individual, team and organisation levels.
Expert Guidelines - Diagnosis and Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Emergency Service Workers
A panel of leading academia and specialists from across Australia, led by Associate Professor Sam Harvey from Black Dog Institute and University of NSW, have combined expert clinical opinion with the best available research evidence to develop the world’s first set of guidelines specific to the needs of emergency workers.
Aiming to provide treating general practitioners, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapeutic providers and workers compensation claims managers, the Guidelines support a best practice and treatment approach of emergency workers suffering, or at risk of, PTSD.
The Guidelines were also developed as resource for workers, their families and carers alike; in a bid to provide them with a clearer means of accessing specific and required support. They also provide a series of recommendations about future work required.
The guidelines have been endorsed as gold standard by the Royal Australian and NZ College of Psychiatrists.
The work done by front line first responders can be confronting and for some lead to severe mental distress. In the past, some first responders have suffered in silence and without the correct support and assistance have had to prematurely leave work due to mental health issues. The Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy for First Responder Organisations in NSW have been developed to guide first responder agencies in their effort to protect and promote mental health and wellbeing in first responders.
Led by Associate Professor Sam Harvey, the strategy consists of six objectives that were developed in collaboration with five first responder agencies. The strategy was made possible by the Mental Health Commission of NSW which brought the first responder agencies together, and the Black Dog Institute and University of New South Wales, which provided the evidence base to support the strategy direction.
The Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance brings together like-minded organisations committed to working with businesses to create mentally health workplaces. The Black Dog Institute is a founding member of the Alliance.
Associate Professor Harvey and his team provide research expertise to the Mentally Health Workplace Alliance and, in 2014, the Alliance and beyondblue launched the “Heads Up” campaign to raise awareness of workplace mental health and provide a range of resources and information.