Article originally published in Health Times, original article available here.
Australia’s mental health and wellbeing crisis hits frontline workers hard
Over the last eighteen months, Australia has experienced back-to-back crises. Black Summer and COVID-19 have pushed the country’s public health and safety systems to the brink.
Through it all, our public health and safety workers have been on the frontlines. Their efforts have taken an emotional toll.
In the early phase of the pandemic, a survey of critical care healthcare workers in Australia and New Zealand found that between one-fifth and one-third of respondents reported moderate to extremely severe depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms.
Many reported not feeling well supported in the work environment.
Since then, things only got worse. Later in 2020, a poll of 10,000 Australian healthcare workers found anxiety, burn out, and depression rates of 61, 58, and 28 per cent respectively.
Some respondents even planned to leave the profession outright.
The mental health and wellbeing crisis was a long time coming
Pre-COVID-19 numbers weren’t so rosy, either. Last decade, the healthcare and social assistance industry logged the second highest rate of serious accepted claims caused by mental stress, according to the Productivity Commission. The industry also saw the highest increase in costs per employee for providing mental health treatment for six months.
What’s going on? Work pressure and exposure to occupational violence are some of the leading causes of accepted mental health-related workers compensations claims. Frontline workers experience both in spades.
Nurse assaults in this country have been at crisis levels for some time now. The Australian Institute of Criminology designated nurses as the occupational group most at risk of workplace violence. A 2014 University of Melbourne study of mental health nurses in Victoria found that more than 80 per cent of respondents had been victims of violence in the past year.
Disaster relief organisations heavily dependent on volunteers are also feeling the strain of this crisis moment. When interviewed by The New York Times, the president of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster forecast a significant dipping of volunteer numbers (up to half), because of volunteer fatigue with disaster.
Approaches to delivering digital interventions to address wellbeing issues among frontline workers
What then can healthcare and emergency management organisations whose legal obligation it is to care for our carers do? The best way to address the mental health and wellbeing concerns of carers is to understand what specific concerns they have, then implement the data-backed initiatives supportive of their resilience.
Here, software can help deliver the digital interventions necessary to address the mental health issues that proliferate among frontline workers. Not sure what to look for?
As a safety and security management software provider, we at Noggin recommend finding digital technology that fits within your safety management solution.
Such a platform would give organisations greater return on their investment as they deal with the related crisis of patient-initiated violence.
What else? The most efficient way to drive mentally healthy frontline workplace practices is to generate better situational awareness of the current events impacting staff.
The platforms in question conduct digital welfare checks at scale, quickly triaging responses and pushing surveys to personnel to understand how they are coping before, during, and after traumatic events.
These solutions also broadcast timely communications to frontline workers, direct them to support programs and relevant information, so that they can self-select the mental health and wellbeing support they need.
Our frontline workers have done a heroic job keeping us safe and healthy during our crisis moment. The emotional toll they now carry necessitates speedy employer action.
For the healthcare and emergency sector, that action should entail investing in the technologies that deliver the right digital interventions to address the mental health issues of frontline workers. Those technologies will also ensure that employers are ahead of the compliance curve and keeping spiralling costs in check.
Indeed, the results would be significant: the societal benefit of a safer, healthier citizenry and the business benefits of higher retention, fewer injuries, and lower costs.
About the Author: James Boddam-Whetham is the CEO of Noggin, an integrated security, safety, crisis & emergency management, and business continuity software provider. The Noggin for Mental Health and Wellbeing module, housed within the Noggin Safety solution, is designed to help businesses respond to mental health and wellbeing events, implement proactive initiatives to support personnel, and better understand opportunities for mental health and wellbeing improvement.
- Naomi E. Hammond et al., Australian Critical Care: Impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic on critical care healthcare workers' depression, anxiety, and stress levels. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7762707/.
- Margaret Paul, ABC News: Coronavirus pandemic causing anxiety, burnout in most of Australia's healthcare workers. Available at https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-16/survey-of-healthcare-workers-mental-health-issues-coronavirus/12772062.
- Health Times: Zero tolerance for violence against health care professionals. Available at https://healthtimes.com.au/hub/nursing-careers/6/news/nc1/zero-tolerance-for-violence-against-health-care-professionals/3257/#:~:text=The%20World%20Health%20Organisation%20estimates,some%20point%20in%20their%20careers.&text=Research%20published%20by%20the%20Australian,of%20workplace%20violence%20in%20Australia.
- Samantha Montano, Gizmodo: Disaster Fatigue Is Real – and the Coronavirus Could Make it Worse. Available at https://gizmodo.com/disaster-fatigue-is-real-and-the-coronavirus-could-make-1844079719.