When it comes to mental-health challenges in the workplace, the focus is shifting to prevention and early intervention rather than diagnosis and treatment, according to the head of Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
Employers and benefits providers will have to start to “rethink their model of dealing with claims,” Thomas Teahen, president and chief executive officer at the WSIB, told delegates at the 2017 Benefits and Pension Summit in Toronto on Tuesday. Instead of waiting for a diagnosis, Teahen suggested they should consider identifying vulnerable populations that may benefit from early intervention. Not only is it the “right thing to do, but it’s also a business imperative,” said Teahen.
His comments followed a panel discussion that delved into the organization’s experience implementing Ontario’s new legislation to support first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder. The legislation allows first responders faster access to WSIB benefits and treatment.
While the WSIB has been managing post-traumatic stress disorder claims for a long time, Teahan said the legislation challenged it to review its system and allocate more resources in responding to the influx of claims from first responders.
On top of providing more adjudicators, the organization set up an internal network of doctors, nurses and psychologists who helped claimants get a diagnosis and find treatment, said Scott Bujeya, vice-president of the WSIB’s health services division. The organization also provided a hotline for employees and employers to learn more about post-traumatic stress disorder, he said. “It’s well utilized even today and manned by subject matter experts.”
To meet the timing condition set out by the legislation, the WSIB ensured nurses reached out to claimants within two days to see if they received a psychiatric diagnosis. If the claimant doesn’t have access to a psychiatrist, the nurse would reach out to the person’s primary health-care provider or use the WSIB’s network of psychiatrists to help the person receive a diagnosis, said Bujeya.
He noted the entire process is completed in about 10 days and all of the health providers work closely together. Primary health-care providers are kept in the loop by receiving insight into their patients’ diagnosis and psychiatrists work with transition specialists to help people return to work.
The WSIB recognizes the transition to work can be difficult and sometimes recommend workers make a gradual transition, said Althea Monteiro, who leads the board’s psychology professional practice.
Employers shouldn’t assume that workers can’t overcome trauma because many of them are resilient, added Monteiro, noting employers can provide many resources and programs that can create a mentally-healthy workplace.
Organizations can provide strong peer and manager support networks and ensure leaders take part in these groups, said Monteiro. They can also hold peer-led workshops that teach employees how to cope with trauma or facilitate discussion groups in which employees can discuss mental health without fear of judgment.
Some organizations are even hiring in-house psychologists to help employees manage their mental-health symptoms before they become full-blown disorders, added Monteiro.
Organizations that are looking to improve mental health in the workplace can start small, said Pamela Steer, chief financial officer at the WSIB. But they should ensure they turn to metrics on the outset, she said. Numbers are important and employers can start by measuring their long- and short-term disability claims along with employee assistance program usage and absenteeism rates, said Steer. They can then use those metrics as a baseline and compare them with results after implementing a program.
Employers can also test programs for specific departments first and see how effective they are, added Steer. Once they see the outcomes, they can then learn and expand the program, she said.