New guidelines for work-related mental health conditions

Published on 08 Aug 2019

  • ​People experiencing work-related mental health issues take up to three times longer to return to work than those with physical injuries.
  • Annually, work-related mental health conditions make up 2.3% of claims but account for 7% of claims costs, and on average cost nearly double per income support claim than physical injuries.

Work related mental health conditions are the second most common cause of workers’ compensation, however, these conditions are typically challenging to diagnose and treat. In Australia, most injured workers seek care from their GP (general practitioner).

Professor Danielle Mazza, head of Monash University’s Department of General Practice, recently led a team to produce world-first guideline designed to help GPs manage work-related mental health conditions.

"GPs are the first-line providers of care for the growing number of patients with work-related mental health conditions, and have called for evidence to support them in managing these patients," she said.

"These guidelines aim to do just that."

GPs have also requested guidance on assessing a patient’s capacity to work, with statistics showing that GPs are more likely to certify workers with a mental health condition as unfit for work compared to those with a physical injury.

Professor Mazza advised that the guideline recommendations derived were based on looking at both patient and workplace factors to find out what the workplace is like, whether there’s conflict with a supervisor, and what ongoing stresses there may be.

"Our guidelines are based on the premise that good and safe work is beneficial for health, so our aims are around patient recovery and return to work."

Further support for the guidelines was provide by RACGP Education Strategy Senior Advisor, Dr Ron McCoy.

"Until now, there has been no clear instruction or advice to GPs about the appropriateness of instruments for diagnosing or assessing the severity of mental health conditions or how to determine the work-relatedness of a condition," he said.

"The resulting ambiguity can result in delays with the mental health claims process, in instances contributing to disagreements between clinicians and compensation scheme staff.

"Until now, GPs also received no evidence-based guidance about how to determine the capability of a patient to return to work or how to approach the development of co morbid mental health conditions in those with a physical injury, or what to do if a patients wasn’t improving.

"This guideline changes all that. This guideline is the first clinical resource, internationally, to provide evidence-based guidance to GPs about the diagnosis and management of mental health conditions that have arisen as a result of workplace injury."

April Jones, Head of Psychology Services at Assure Programs commented that “the Guidelines offer a great framework for GP’s to be more informed in their diagnosis".

"For mental injuries in the workers compensation scheme, it suggests that this will be a more objective, clinical -based  assessment and review process that many individuals will be grateful for," she said.

"Mental health is an area that can not be overlooked or diluted any more and these Guidelines are a positive step in supporting GP’s, organisations, leaders and individuals  to use appropriate language with definitions (diagnosis) behind them and focus on how to minimise the distress and develop strategies for recovery."

April further commented on the psychometric assessment tools that will be used, and is hopeful that this will not result in an increase of misdiagnosed cases and what that may mean for the long term.

Access a full copy of the clinical guideline here.

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