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Worker’s Mental Health Claims Set to Rise


    A few posts ago we discussed concerns about changing definitions of grief in the upcoming revised edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5). But it seems that grief is not the only thing that has got the mental health care community up in arms.

    Expanding definitions of mental health diagnoses generally may well be cause for concern. Mental health practitioners worry about over-diagnosis, mislabelling and the risk of excessive or unneeded treatment. However, lawyers and insurance companies are also voicing concern about the impact of broadening definitions of mental health illnesses, particularly on the way in which workplace compensation cases are played out. There is a concern that broader definitions will lower the threshold for the diagnosis of many mental health conditions, leading more workplaces to be exposed more often. This might lead to workers’ compensation claims for stress, anxiety or PTSD arising out of relatively minor incidents, or from incidents experienced vicariously.

    Of particular concern to workplaces, is the proposed loosening of the distinction between personality-based disorders and issues instigated by other causes. The concern is that workplaces will be held responsible for a far greater range of mental illnesses, without reference to any underlying personality problems that might pre-exist in the workplace scenario.

    There is no doubt that workplace stress is a big problem here in Australia. It is also an expensive problem – one that reduces productivity and increases sick leave. Today’s workforce is facing an increased risk of work-related stress from such things as long commutes and access to technological developments that muddy the distinction between work and home time.

    A 2008 Medibank Private report entitled The Cost of Workplace Stress in Australia reveals some staggering figures, suggesting that workplace stress costs employers $10.11 billion each year through absenteeism, and that on average, workers take 3.2 days sick leave per annum due to workplace stress. A recent report by Safe Work Australia echoes these claims.

    Critics of the DSM5 argue that workplace stress may be about to get more expensive, especially if Australian courts utilise the DSM to determine facts of law in worker’s compensation cases.

    One approach is for workplaces to focus more on reducing stress in the workplace, as a means to reduce reliance on worker’s compensation claims arising from mental health issues. Many organisations now offer an EAP (Employee Assistance Counselling) Service to their employees, enabling them to seek professional assistance for a range of mental health issues.

    The benefits of EAP services to the bottom-line are wide-reaching and include [1]:

    • Conflict resolution
    • Better communication leading to improved team performance
    • Less reliance on sick leave
    • A reduction in workplace accidents
    • Less staff turnover and a saving on related recruitment costs.
    • Facilitation of more effective return-to-work procedures
    • Reduced likelihood of workplace bullying or violence
    • Assisting with adjustment issues resulting from changes to the working environment e.g. mergers, restructures.

    You can find out more about how an EAP program might benefit your business by clicking here.

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