Research projects

Implementing best practice guidelines for return to work after an episode of anxiety or depression

Principal researchers

Dr Nicola Reavley
Professor Anthony Jorm

Institution

Centre for Youth Mental Health, University of Melbourne

Funding

$87,980

Award type

beyondblue Victorian Centre of Excellence

Project completion year

2012

Project brief

The researchers developed a website, returntowork.workplace-mentalhealth.net.au, which aimed to assist organisations to implement best-practice guidelines in the area of returning to work (RTW) after an episode of anxiety or depression.

The site was developed by reviewing relevant evidence, carrying out Delphi consensus process to develop guidelines and by interviewing key stakeholders. 

returntowork.workplace-mentalhealth.net.au is a useful resource to assist those involved in the process of returning to work after an episode of depression and anxiety. 84 per cent of users who filled in a questionnaire found the site useful or very useful, 52 per cent said it positively affected their involvement in the process of returning to work after mental illness and 77 per cent of respondents said they were likely or very likely to use the information and resources on the site in future.

Aims

The aim of the project was to assist organisations to implement best-practice guidelines in the area of return to work (RTW) after an episode of anxiety or depression. This project built on research previously funded by the beyondblue Victorian Centre of Excellence (VCoE), the aim of which was to develop guidelines for organisations to help them facilitate successful RTW and prevent relapse for employees returning after an episode of anxiety or depression. This was done by a systematic review of the evidence and a Delphi expert consensus study on which strategies are appropriate.

Methods

A tailored implementation website was developed. This can be found at returntowork.workplace-mentalhealth.net.au.

Sections of the website are tailored towards a range of stakeholders, including RTW coordinators, occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals, human resources (HR) professionals, small business owners, supervisors, co-workers, employees returning after an episode of mental illness and their family and friends.

The website incorporates expert recommendations on guideline implementation and case studies of implementation of RTW policies and practices from a variety of organisations, along with a range of other tips and tools for implementation.

Website content and development was informed by stakeholder interviews that aimed to explore the barriers to and enablers of successful RTW after depression or anxiety. The researchers also aimed to evaluate the usefulness and impact of the guidelines and implementation website on a range of stakeholders. This was done through web surveys of site users.

Results

Stakeholders were interviewed and identified barriers to successful RTW after an episode of depression or anxiety as:

  • lack of capacity in organisations, lack of a supportive culture/interpersonal environment
  • difficulties with job attachment (commitment to/satisfaction with a job)
  • lack of awareness of mental health issues (management), discomfort, stigma,
  • lack of confidence (feel out of their depth)
  • fear of liability
  • blurring of mental health and other (interpersonal/personality) issues
  • HR lack of awareness of mental health problems, better on physical disabilities
  • difficulties communicating with workers
  • contact when they are absent/who/when etc.
  • having the first conversation and first RTW meeting
  • confidentiality issues, trust issues/lack of trust
  • worker engagement/managing the person during RTW/reasonable adjustments
  • managing the risk of relapse
  • liaison with GPs
  • resentment around claims/difficulties if performance issues are involved
  • liaison with rehabilitation providers/communication with insurers
  • lack of awareness of medication issues (by managers and employees)
  • responsibilities under OHS law
  • getting employees who need it into treatment
  • what to tell colleagues/managing colleagues
  • record keeping – documenting interactions with employees
  • employees feeling anxious coming back after a long time, unsure how much they can cope with.

Survey results

The website was launched in early November 2012. Employer organisations, health promotion organisations and government bodies assisted in promoting the site.

In just over three months almost 5,000 people visited the site suggesting a high level of interest. Among 324 people who filled out a survey about the site, users were more likely to be female, from Victoria and to work in the Health Care and Social Assistance Industries.

The most common types of visitors to the site were OHS professionals with responsibility for return to work, RTW coordinators and employees with mental health problems.

84 per cent of users found the site useful or very useful. Among 52 people who filled out a follow-up survey one month later, 69 per cent looked at all or most of the site, 77 per cent learned at least ‘a fair bit’ and 73 per cent found the information useful or very useful.

When asked if the information affected their involvement in the process of return to work after mental illness, 52 per cent responded that it affected this positively, while 40 per cent reported that it did not affect involvement. 77 per cent of respondents said they were likely or very likely to use the information and resources on the site in future.

Links

returntowork.workplace-mentalhealth.net.au

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