New guide to help employees with mental health conditions

Family doctors are being given new guidelines on how to help people who experience work-related mental health conditions.

The advice for GPs includes looking at the possible causes for mental health conditions to determine if it could have arisen from work or another factor in a patient’s life.

Speaking to ABC radio’s Health Report, Professor Danielle Mazza, Head of Monash University’s Department of General Practice, one of the authors of the guidelines, said the best recovery came when GPs and employers worked together.

“I think GPs are the first point of call often for these kinds of conditions, and it's the GP's place to really help to make a diagnosis and sort out a management plan,” Professor Mazza said.

“And our guidelines are really focused on being very patient centred, and working with the patient to achieve the best outcomes.

“And in doing so, GPs will often work with various health professionals, whether they be psychologists or psychiatrists or occupational therapists.

“They will also work with the patient's workplace. After there's a discussion with the patient about the condition and the communication that's required, and, with the patient's consent, the GP can talk to the workplace and the supervisors and try and get an idea of what's going on, and that will assist the GP in making a management plan for that patient.”

APM has been helping people recover from injuries, illnesses and mental health conditions and return to work for more than 25 years.

APM Employment Services assists thousands of people with an injury, illness or disability to find suitable employment or stay in work every year.

APM WorkCare provides a comprehensive workplace health, injury management and return to work service for employees, businesses and case managers across Australia.

Professor Mazza said the guidelines also suggested evidence-based tools to help GPs make accurate diagnosis of mental health conditions as well as assess its severity.

The guidelines, approved by the National Health and Medical Research Council and endorsed by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, is the first internationally to address the clinical complexities associated with diagnosing and managing work‐related mental health conditions.

The changes put forward aim to improve health outcomes of people with mental health conditions by encouraging:

  • the use of appropriate tools to assist the diagnosis and determine the severity of mental health conditions
  • consideration of factors that can lead to the development of a mental health condition after a workplace injury
  • more comprehensive clinical assessments
  • the use of existing high quality guidelines to inform the clinical management of mental health conditions
  • consideration of a patient's capacity to work
  • appropriate communication with the workplace
  • collaboration with other health professionals

The guidelines also include advice for GPs so they can explain the diagnosis and recovery expectations with the patient, and if permitted, with the employer.

“There are some employers that are very supportive of their employees and want to work to achieve a good outcome. Some are perhaps not aware of what's going on or are inexperienced,” Professor Mazza added.

“A lot of it depends on the size of the workplace too. And I think that throughout this process there needs to be a lot of good communication happening to try and work things out for the patient.”

Professor Mazza said the guidelines suggest GPs should consider mental health issues in the same way they would a physical injury.

"If somebody has a fall at work and hurts their arm or their leg and they can't walk or they can't move their arm, you might not necessarily say that they need to stay away from work for a long period of time.

“You might work with their employer to see if there were other duties they could perform or other things that they could be doing to keep them connected.

“And I think we've got to start to think about that, in situations where that's possible, to help people with mental health conditions make a good recovery.”