Workers affected by a mental health injury take up to three times longer to return to work than those suffering a physical injury, according to new research.
A Monash University study found that each year in Australia there are 7500 successful compensation claims for work-related mental health conditions, while a further 217,500 claims do not seek or receive compensation.
These figures reflect a 22 percent increase within the last decade, with claims including conditions such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Head of the Department of General Practice at Monash University Professor Danielle Mazza said workers suffering from a mental health injury are more likely to suffer secondary consequences of their injury such as alcohol and drug abuse. They are also at higher risk of developing additional health problems like high blood pressure.
The research also found that the general practitioners at the forefront of diagnosing and managing people suffering work-related mental health conditions were overburdened and struggling without resources and support.
World-class guidelines to assist GPs in diagnosing and managing these patients will be released by Monash University this week.
The guidelines address questions regarding why a patient’s mental health may not be improving as expected, whether the patient is able to continue working and whether the condition was caused by work. Professor Mazza said this last question was a particularly important consideration for GPs when assessing patients’ mental health injuries.
“If it’s arising out of bullying or stress in the workplace, these issues need to be addressed if a patient is to return to work.”
According to Professor Mazza, it is critical to identify any workplace factors such as ongoing stresses or conflict with a supervisor, and provide appropriate and timely care so as to ensure the mental health issue does not become a chronic condition.
“Our guidelines are based on the premise that good and safe work is beneficial for health, so our aims are around patient recovery and return to work.”
The guidelines have been approved by the National Health and Medical Research Council and endorsed by both the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine.