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How Employers Can Improve Frontline Worker Mental Health

February 6th, 2024 by Guest Communications

Written by: Karen Thomas

Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety.

Mental health issues are a new epidemic in the workforce. According to a study at Johns Hopkins, 26% of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder in a given year. Those employees who are first responders or are subjected to potentially dangerous situations are even more likely to experience stress and anxiety. Over time, these stressors can lead to depression and even physical ailments.

Support from management, mental health providers, and attention to injured workers can help employees avoid or recover from behavioral health problems.

Getting Needed Mental Health Support to Employees

One barrier that sometimes keeps employees from obtaining the mental health care they need is the stigma surrounding these services. Offering virtual therapy can help overcome this reluctance. With telehealth, employees can receive treatment in the privacy of their own homes, and they don’t have to travel or take time off from work.

When employers offer wellness services, mental health should be included in those offerings. This inclusion communicates that employers understand mental health is as important as physical health.

Offering employee assistance programs is another important way to make mental health support easily accessible. Supervisors should be trained to spot behaviors that may indicate mental or emotional health problems and guided in how to talk to employees about them.

Finally, for workers who may be faced with daily trauma, like first responders or medical workers, it’s important to recognize that the effect of such stress can be cumulative, leading to more serious problems like depression, anxiety, addiction, and debilitating physical issues. To meet the demands of their jobs, these employees must be in tip-top shape, mentally and physically.

Injured Workers Are Especially Vulnerable to Mental Health Challenges

Occupational injuries can exacerbate or precipitate behavioral health problems. A study published by the National Institutes of Health PubMed Central found that occupational injury increased the risk of depression by 72%. Injured workers find themselves in a situation that can easily lead to anxiety and depression. They are cut off from the support systems that may have existed at work. They are worried about the future and their ability to resume the lives they had before their injury. They may be in pain. They may have financial worries. In short, their lives are disrupted.

If an injured worker is depressed, they are unlikely to be a full participant in their recovery. They are less likely to follow through with therapies at home, to keep appointments, and to continue to stay involved in social activities and connections. Mental health problems and chronic pain may also lead to the prescription of potentially addictive drugs, which can bring on a host of other problems.

Fortunately, there is a growing recognition of how important it is to identify mental health issues with injured workers. For example, screening tools can spot symptoms and involve mental health professionals as needed. Closer monitoring keeps the employee engaged and hopeful. In healthcare, technology is used to connect all parties in the care team so that the treatment program moves forward seamlessly, freeing patients and their families from the hassles of navigating this complex system themselves.

Supporting Employees Who Face Traumatic Events

A traumatic event in the workplace directly affects those who were involved, those who might have witnessed the event, and employees who may not be directly involved in that event but suffer secondary trauma. Critical incident stress debriefing is proven to reduce this anxiety and help workers heal from trauma. It can also improve morale and reduce absenteeism.

Final Thoughts

Taken together, these facts illustrate that we are in a new world. To maximize productivity and retention, it is necessary to take a more holistic view of employees, especially injured workers, and to recognize that true health is more than physical well-being.

To help employees to be mentally and emotionally healthy, it’s important to make resources available to them, to use technology to make better, faster decisions and to spot problems more quickly, and to incorporate a compassionate outlook toward the entire workforce, especially first responders and those facing potentially dangerous situations on a daily basis.

Karen Thomas, RN, MSN, CCM, is the Vice President, Clinical Solutions at CorVel Corporation, a national provider of risk management solutions for workers’ compensation, auto, health, and disability management industries.

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