COVID-19 drives mental health claims

New data reveals a steep rise in mental health-related workers compensation claims since the start of COVID-19, and experts are warning businesses to prepare for more.

SafeWork Australia data reveals that 34 per cent of the 533 COVID-19 related claims until July 31 related to mental health. In WA, that proportion was 75 per cent.

Pre-COVID, workers compensation claims in 2018-19 relating to mental health made up 9 per cent or 10,015 of 114,435 claims.

The increase in mental health issues was also reported in Australian Institute for Health and Welfare data, showing the proportion of the population experiencing severe psychological distress rose from 8.4 per cent in February 2017 to 10.6 per cent in April 2020.

Australian Chamber of Commerce Director WHS and Workers Compensation Policy Jennifer Low says these claims expected to continue well into next year.

“Workplaces should prepare for more claims relating to mental health this year and into 2021,” she says.

“With a higher proportion of poor mental health issues bring experienced off the back of COVID in the general population, there is a greater risk in workplaces that employers will have to manage relating to these issues.”

WorkCover WA figures show the number of stress-related workers compensation claims have increased in recent years, with work pressures and responses to traumatic events being the primary cause for 49 per cent of the 470 claims made in WA during 2018/19.

CCIWA Principal Workplace Relations Advocate Paul Moss adds that the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced both the positive and negative implications that employment has on a person’s mental health.

“Those businesses that have been able to successfully navigate the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and supported their employees through this transition are increasingly seeing the benefits through increased employee engagement, however, this is not without its challenges,” he says.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has significant increased the level of stressors for both workers, manager and business owners, and is likely to result in an increase in the number of claims.”

Moss explains that it is important for employers to consider what the increased risks are within a workplace, to take steps to help reduce the risk and to look out for signs that workers may need support, and encourage staff to seek assistance.

“Open conservations with employees about the challenges that the COVID-19 is having on mental wellbeing and that it is ok to need help is a useful starting point,” he adds.

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