Professional counselling and debriefing after a tragedy or life-threatening accident may actually create additional psychological problems, a mental health expert has warned.
Ahead of his address to April’s Safety In Action Conference, associate professor John Pead of the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health said employers should consider alternatives to routine counselling following a workplace death or near miss.
"The traditional debriefing following traumatic event is ineffective and possibly harmful," he said.
"It has the potential of creating sick role expectations that only add to the likelihood that someone will develop a psychiatric condition. After a traumatic event, up to 80% of people will recover on their own with the support of their family and workplace.”
Associate professor John Pead said the new Australian Guidelines for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder recommended a staged approach to mental health treatment.
"If they are not getting a lot better within three to four weeks of the trauma that is the time to consider therapy and the well-placed people to make that judgement are family members and peers, not external professionals.”
“Workplace supervisors need to be trained in mental health first aid so that they know what mental health looks like and can be more confident about looking after the person who is been affected.”
"It is possible to identify people who will not readily recover from the mental health consequences of injuries less than six weeks after the incident and there should be early screening by health professionals like GPs and claims staff."
Associate Professor John Pead said that, even then, family and workplace supervisors should be proactive about the choice of counselling.
"There is a tendency for employers to think that once someone's in the hands of a psychologist, their role in looking after that person is over," he said.
"The reality is that, firstly, ongoing workplace support is essential and, second, too few health practitioners offer effective mental health interventions."
"Unlike routine supportive counselling, cognitive-behaviour therapy and some pharmacotherapy, have proven effectiveness in treating posttraumatic mental health problems.”
“A drift towards mediocrity for mental health care is a particular risk when the consumer lacks knowledge and often does not pay for the service. We need to inform insurers and mandate evidence-based practices."
Associate professor John Pead will discuss 10 challenges in posttraumatic mental health on April 30 at Safety In Action.
Sponsored by WorkSafe Victoria and hosted by the Safety Institute of Australia (Victoria Division), the Safety In Action conference will be held from April 29 to May 1 at the Melbourne Convention Centre, while the concurrently held Safety In Action trade show will be at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre.