Psychological health crucial in workplace

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Once specifically associated with war veterans, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has moved far beyond the realm of war zones and is becoming recognized as a real issue in workplaces right here in Manitoba.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/07/2016 (2215 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Once specifically associated with war veterans, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has moved far beyond the realm of war zones and is becoming recognized as a real issue in workplaces right here in Manitoba.

In the article The hidden scars (July 23), Mike McIntyre shed light on some of the heavy psychological burden that emergency workers are forced to grapple with on a daily basis.

While firefighters, paramedics and police officers are easily identified as being more prone to PTSD, an often-overlooked but equally high risk group is nurses.

Nurses’ experiences with PTSD have received very little attention in the past. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that nursing is a predominantly female profession and PTSD symptoms among women can be misdiagnosed or overlooked as anxiety, burnout or depression.

However, there is no disputing the statistics — Canadian research studies have continuously shown that more than 30 per cent of nurses report experiencing one or more symptoms of PTSD. In Manitoba, the number is much higher, with more than half of the nurses in this province having experienced critical incident stress, a precursor to the development of PTSD. Furthermore, one in four nurses report consistently experiencing PTSD symptoms.

PTSD symptoms and the state of workplace psychological health and safety are having a direct impact on the absenteeism rates in the nursing profession. Nationally, the rate of absenteeism for full-time nurses is eight per cent, which is substantially higher than the average of all other occupations (4.7 per cent). The most recent statistics available for Manitoba, show that in 2014, there were 331 active psychological disability claims for health-care employees, including nurses, representing the second-highest disability claim category.

In providing care for others, nurses are often required to suppress or evoke certain emotions in themselves and others in order to provide quality care and maintain professional standards. Similarly, as the primary caregivers, they are often reluctant to recognize at times they are the ones that need help.

While the recent addition of the presumptive PTSD legislation to the Workers Compensation Act was an important and noteworthy step in the right direction, it does not mitigate the health and safety risks that nurses face on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, Manitoba still lacks a legislative framework and consistent policies that prioritize psychological health and safety in the workplace, especially in health-care environments.

Apart from violence and harassment, there is currently no legal obligation for employers to address or takes steps to prevent psychological hazards on the job. In order to reduce the effects of trauma, it is crucial for employers to adopt a comprehensive psychological health and safety prevention policy and ensure timely access to psychological supports.

During our independent research, time and time again, nurses raised concerns about the inability to access onsite supports for trauma and mental health issues. The need for debriefing supports was the number one recommendation from our focus groups.

It is imperative for the government to recognize psychosocial and psychological hazards under the Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health Act and Regulation. It should also be a legal requirement for employers to implement policies, processes and supports that directly respond to psychological hazards in the workplace.

The nursing profession can be gratifying, challenging, and rewarding but, it can also cause nurses to be ongoing witnesses to trauma and an inordinate amount of suffering and death. The exposure to this trauma is not openly discussed or recognized publicly.

We hope that the inclusion of psychological health in Manitoba’s workplace safety and health legislation would formally acknowledge the unique health and safety hazards in health care work environments. It goes without saying that psychological health and safety within the health care profession is paramount in ensuring a healthy health care system where nurses can provide the highest level of care to their patients.

To view the Manitoba Nurses Union PTSD research report and documentary, please visit www.traumadoesntend.ca

Sandi Mowat is the president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, representing more than 12,000 nurses of all designations across Manitoba.

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