By Melissa Davey

Employee well-being is being addressed, but needs work

Mental health in the workplace is becoming an increasingly discussed issue as mental illness becomes less stigmatised, and workplaces are seen as key partners in its prevention and treatment.

Writing for Croakey, Jaelea Skehan and Brian Kelly say it is promising to see workplaces given a focus in the most recent National Report Card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, in the development of the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance, at national conferences such as the recent Mental Health in the Australian Workplace conference, and in the development of workplace mental health programs.

But workers in the mining sector, they write, face a range of challenges to their mental well-being such as long work hours, shift cycles, and distances that need to be traveled to the workplace through drive-in drive-out and fly-in fly-out approaches. Yet evidence on the prevalence of mental illness in male-dominated industries was generally lacking, they said.

They refer to a systematic review of male dominated industries that has shed some light on the issue and suggests workers in construction and mining industries might have elevated prevalence rates of depression and anxiety.

“Even if the mining workforce experienced mental ill-health at the same rates as the population, that would still mean up to 10,000 employees in New South Wales… may experience a mental illness such as anxiety, depression or substance use disorders,” Skehan and Kelly write.

Meanwhile, the largest British study of women in the workplace conducted by global services firm PwC found more than half of women have experienced harassment and bullying at work, including being deliberately undermined, experiencing overbearing supervision, having their careers blocked and being treated differently to their colleagues.

Experts warned that the impact of workplace harassment impacted the wellbeing of staff, and could damage company reputation and ability to recruit top talent.

The Guardian writes that mental health is the last workplace taboo, with a culture of silence causing suffering and discrimination against workers. They quote the director of Opportunity Now, Kathryn Nawrockyi, as saying “Workplace culture encourages people to leave rather than report problems”.

Tell The Health Wrap about any positive moves your workplace has made to improve mental health in the comments section below.


Food: guidelines and challenges

Global health campaigner Alessandro Demaio has challenged Australian politicians and leading food retailers to make sure every child in the country has access to affordable fruit and vegetables by 2017, Croakey contributor Marie McInerney writes.

Speaking at Congress Lowitja 2014: Many mobs, one vision: creating a healthy future, he said Australia can’t address health inequity, or its obesity emergency, when rural and remote communities have to pay $9 for six mushrooms or $4.50 for a small piece of broccoli.

Meanwhile, Brazil has issued new dietary guidelines open for public comment that renowned public health nutritionist Marion Nestle has described as innovative on her blog, Food Politics.

“The guidelines are remarkable in that they are based on foods that Brazilians of all social classes eat every day, and consider the social, cultural, economic and environmental implications of food choices,” she writes.

The guidelines encourage preparing meals from staple and fresh foods, using oils, fats, sugar and salt in moderation, limiting consumption of ready-to-consume food and drink products, and eating regular meals in appropriate environments, among other measures.

Finally,  Fairfax examines a highly contentious new book by US cardiologist Carl Lavie, The Obesity Paradox: When Thinner Means Sicker and Heavier Means Healthier, which claims the key to optimal health for millions of overweight and obese people may be staying the size they are.


Indigenous health at the forefront

Kelly Briggs, a Gomeroi writer from Moree who tweets @TheKooriWoman is fund-raising via the IndigenousX site on Start Some Good as she hopes to write for Croakey about Indigenous health from a community perspective. Watch her  YouTube clip here,  where she explains why she wants to become involved in Croakey’s health coverage and the broader public health conversation.

And regular Croakey contributor and south-western Sydney GP, Dr Tim Senior, has launched a campaign via the Public Interest Journalism Foundation’s Pozible channel to fund a regular column investigating the impacts of policy upon the health of people and communities, particularly the most vulnerable members.

Croakey provides a range of Indigenous and rural health coverage this past fortnight. Regular Croakey site moderator Jenniffer Doggett discusses a new report on the economic benefits of the 150 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations.

Launched in Canberra by Justin Mohamed, Chair of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), it outlines how a single investment in Aboriginal Community Control Health Organisations deals with all three of the main challenges in Aboriginal communities: high unemployment, low education levels and poor health.

“It describes how Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services have up to 43 years’ experience in delivery of culturally appropriate Comprehensive Primary Health Care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Doggett writes.

The report also says Aboriginal Community Control Health Organisations are the largest private employer industry of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within Australia, and provides 2.5 million episodes of care to an estimated 342,000 Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians annually.

Meanwhile, a recent symposium in Adelaide heard that the mainstream health sector could learn much from ACCHOs and yet this knowledge transfer does not appear to be occurring – due to racism, cultural cringe, and a dominant private sector paradigm.

Another Croakey piece argues that a lack of affordable or accessible transport is one of the biggest barriers for people accessing health services.

The ambulance service is the most visible representation of the health system’s role in transport, writes Solange Frost, Senior Policy Officer, NCOSS, but less well known is the role of non-emergency health transport in facilitating people’s access to health care – particularly for disadvantaged Australians.

Finally, Croakey has provided extensive coverage of two Lowitja Institute conferences – you can find a wrap of the Continous Quality Improvement conference here  and of Congress Lowitja here.

The Lowitja Institute is Australia’s National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research, with a sole focus on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


Climate change and health

Human health has so far been neglected in public discussions on climate change because much of the debate has generally focused on the environment, according to authors of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. But ABC reports that climate change will increasingly harm people’s health, and Australians will be particularly vulnerable.

In a powerful piece for the British Medical Journal, ‘Climate change and human survival’,  the authors write the situation is now an emergency.

“Immediate and transformative action is needed at every level: individual, local, and national; personal, political, and financial,” they say. “Countries must set aside differences and work together as a global community for the common good, and in a way that is equitable and sensitive to particular challenges of the poorest countries and most vulnerable communities.”

But Croakey coordinator Melissa Sweet questions why their often-repeated message is being ignored by too many.

“It’s too painful, it’s too confronting, it’s easier to focus on more immediate and everyday problems, there is too much disinformation, and too many powerful interests that don’t want us to listen, let alone to act,” she writes.

Fiona Armstrong, convenor of the Climate and Health Alliance, suggests the health sector engage with the social media discussion around climate change could go some way in pushing pressing health-related issues to do with climate change to the forefront of the discussion.


Government looks to health for Budget savings

The Daily Telegraph reports that Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson urged the Federal Government to make hard decisions on health and welfare in its first budget to reverse a blowout in government spending, saying savings worth about $12 billion a year would be needed to deliver a surplus in four years.

He said Australia’s health spending would nearly double in the next decade and highlighted the aged, disability and carers pensions as areas of potential budgetary blowouts.

Meanwhile the ABC reports that Indigenous health advocates maintain the May budget should be quarantined from health services from budget cuts. They also report future funding for 150 Aboriginal medical services across the country remains in limbo with the existing agreement due to expire in June.

And Sky News reports there is every indication wealthier Australians will be asked to pay more for health care. Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Steve Ciobo, told Sky he personally supports a means test on the Medicare scheme.

Under pressure from the Treasurer desperate to deliver Budget savings, the Health Minister Peter Dutton will need to offer up something in his rapidly growing portfolio, Jenniffer Doggett writes for Croakey. She outlines the views from some health experts and organisations about where they think health savings could be found, and more options were also put forward at an AHHA roundtable meeting.


Other Croakey reading you may have missed this fortnight:

Public health advocacy lessons from the solarium ban campaign

Raising questions about the cultural competence of health professionals and services

A chance to “get social” with AHPRA

What did you do while the earth was unravelling? Health sector urged to act on climate change

The TGA – a watchdog with dentures?

Catch some beautiful songs and stories and have a laugh too: showcasing strong culture

The Racial Discrimination Act needs strengthening – not weakening: a public health perspective

“If we built housing to suit the community’s needs, we might end up with more children at school and more people in work”

Contributors sought for “Digihealth International” – a new blogazine sharing knowledge and experience in Indigenous health

Bad news – Indigenous health coverage reinforces stigma

Why aren’t governments tougher on private health insurers?

You can find previous editions of the Health Wrap here.

Melissa Davey is the Sax Institute’s Communications Manager. She was previously a health and medical reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sun Herald. She is completing her Masters of Public Health at the University of Sydney. The Sax Institute is a not-for-profit organisation that drives the use of research evidence in health policy and planning. Follow Melissa on Twitter here.

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