May 30, 2023 / Ed Rutkowski

Three Thoughts on Mental Health in the Workplace

Three Thoughts is a new SynergistNOW series based on episodes of the Healthier Workplaces Show, an AIHA video podcast.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought increased attention to questions of mental health in the workplace. In episode 17 of AIHA's Healthier Workplaces Show, Liz Hill, CIH, CSP, spoke with host Bob Krell about the role OEHS professionals can play in getting employers to address their workers' mental health. Hill is the Total Worker Health advisor for SAIF Corp. in Oregon. Here are three takeaways from her conversation with Krell:

1. The taboo around mental health is breaking down. In response to Krell's observation that many people, including employers, have been reluctant to discuss mental health in the workplace, Hill said there's reason to believe that change is happening now, thanks in part to the NIOSH Total Worker Health framework. Previously, Hill said, employers offered benefits such as employee assistance programs, sessions with therapists and counselors, and training on managing stress. While these were worthwhile programs, they placed the onus for tending to mental health on employees. The TWH framework has helped OEHS professionals focus on the causes of workplace stress and encouraged employers to approach issues of mental health from an organizational perspective.

2. Partnerships can be an effective way to address mental health issues. According to CDC data, construction has the second highest rate of suicide among major industries. Hill talked about a partnership among construction companies in Oregon with the purpose of reducing suicide among workers in the industry. The partnership has produced a suicide prevention plan template that can be used in different workplaces and "toolbox talks" that help guide conversations about mental health.

3. The number of resources offering practical suggestions for addressing mental health in OEHS programs is growing. OEHS professionals are likely already aware of ISO 45003, Occupational Health and Safety Management - Psychological Health and Safety at Work - Guidelines for Managing Psychosocial Risks. Hill also recommended the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, which includes resources for implementation. Last November, the U.S. Surgeon General released a framework for mental health and well-being at work (PDF), and followed up this month with a report titled "Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation" (PDF), which discusses the importance of workplaces for helping people establish social connections.

To listen to the episode, head over to the Healthier Workplaces Show webpage.

Several recent articles in The Synergist offer further reading on topics discussed in the episode:

Ed Rutkowski

Ed Rutkowski is editor in chief of The Synergist.


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