OHS Canada Magazine

Traumatic mental stress a priority, MOL says

October 13, 2014
By Jason Contant

Health & Safety Mental Health

Directives follow roundtable on traumatic mental stress

(Canadian OH&S News) — The government of Ontario will ensure that traumatic mental stress is a priority for the Ministry of Labour’s (MOL) Chief Prevention Officer and will organize a workshop to share best practices on the issue across multiple sectors.

Those were two follow-up actions proposed by the Roundtable on Traumatic Mental Stress, which has conducted research on ways to prevent stress, reduce the stigma associated with mental health disorders and help people who have suffered mental injuries in the workplace. The roundtable presented its findings and insights on Oct. 7, two years after the provincial government launched the project. It brought together representatives from police, nursing, fire services, emergency medical services and transit services to discuss how to promote awareness and share best practices on work-related traumatic mental stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“We know that certain occupations have more occurrences of traumatic mental stress than others, and that some sectors have developed best practices that could be shared across the province,” said Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Kevin Flynn, in a news release. “Our goal for this conference is to engage various sectors to find effective methods to prepare workers and employers for potential stress and to provide tools to help respond to potentially traumatic situations and re-integrate workers who have suffered from traumatic mental stress back into meaningful work.”

A backgrounder from the MOL noted that the province has already implemented a number of initiatives to address mental health in the workplace. For example, to better support its members, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) has:

* Established an employee wellness section to provide dedicated resources to address operational stress injuries (OSI) and support members, retirees and their families. An OSI is defined as “any persistent psychological difficulty that police personnel experience as a result of operational duties including, but not limited to, depression, anxiety addictions and PTSD.” In 2014, the province provided $4.4 million in funding to the employee wellness section;


* Enhanced its critical incident stress response/peer support team to provide consistent and effective support for members involved in critical incidents;

* Extended support for counselling sessions for retired and former members for up to one year after termination of service; and

* Improved education and training to help officers recognize and address OSIs. This has been implemented by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

Dr. Ash Bender, an occupational psychiatrist who was also part of the roundtable, stressed the importance of peer-oriented approaches to mental health, such as a “train the trainer” model to support colleagues who are returning to the workplace following a traumatic event. “Peer support may play a role in encouraging treatment seeking and providing support during recovery… and provide additional support during the process of returning to work,” he said.

Access to resources and support is also important, as is organizational leadership, Dr. Bender noted. The latter requires a commitment from organizational leaders in order to build a culture that promotes recognition and acceptance of mental health issues. He used the example of a company spending $100,000 if the person doesn’t return to work. “Isn’t it better to invest in helping the person recover?” he asked.

The news release from the MOL noted that the province will host a conference in 2015 on work-related traumatic mental stress that will bring together representatives from a wide range of affected sectors to share experiences, concerns and best practices and to learn from innovators in the field.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Commission, in any given year, one in five Canadians experiences a mental health problem or illness, with a cost to the economy of more than $50 billion. Mental health problems and illnesses typically account for about 30 per cent of short-term and long-term disability claims.


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