An exciting new pilot program in Victoria is exploring the long-term positive impact of reconnecting injured workers on workers compensation benefits with their communities.
For incapacitated workers living with mental injury, the road to recovery is far from smooth. Add to this that there is no quick fix – every injury is unique and requires a tailored approach to healing. The human and financial costs of mental health injuries for employers and employees are particularly staggering, with $543 million paid in workers’ compensation each year for work-related mental health conditions and 20 times more sick days per month taken by workers with severe depression, according to SafeWork Australia.
In addition, findings from the Allianz Future Thriving Workplace report, released in October last year, state that claims for workplace mental health injuries have increased by 80% in the last three years to 2020. These figures do not account for the toll taken by the pandemic.
“The challenge now is to bridge the gap between awareness of mental ill-health in the workplace, and taking action,” says Julie Mitchell, Chief General Manager of Personal Injury at Allianz Australia.
Bridging the gap with alternative therapy
Now, a new pilot program run by Allianz, is exploring the potential of alternative therapies in supporting the recovery of Victorian employees who are out of work and have been living with a workplace-induced mental health injury for more than one year. The Alternative Therapy Program is one of the first of its kind to be implemented by a claims agent, and its early successes have highlighted the need for a more holistic approach when it comes to helping injured workers find their feet again.
Alternative therapy offers benefits for the mind, body and soul, and can help ease the symptoms of stress and anxiety, aid relaxation and enhance mental wellbeing. It can include anything from mindfulness training to art therapy. In these treatments, the goal isn’t just to complete a designated class or task.
“Having people understand that it is not just about ‘Yoga’ as an activity, it’s gearing [my]self up to go, going on public transport, being in a class [basis of their PTSD] – just being able to do that has been especially important,” one participant explained.
Creating meaningful community connections to facilitate recovery
For the Allianz pilot program, the alternative therapy activities are selected by participants’ preferred mental health providers with the intention of facilitating a reconnection between the employee and their community. It also helps to introduce added benefits, including the establishment of an enjoyable routine, return to previously loved pursuits, human interaction and the introduction of structure into the week.
According to one participant, “[Without the program] I’d feel more alienated … it made me feel not alone in this journey, not having much community connection. It helped significantly.”
By adding this important complement to existing support networks in the return-to-work journey, Allianz and treating health practitioners are able to help injured individuals in their recovery, facilitating a safer return to work.
According to one treating health practitioner, “It helps people get out of their isolated lives, discover or develop creative elements within, takes their mind off their mental health, and perhaps even mix with other people.”
Participants reported personal development benefits (such as re-building confidence and a sense of accomplishment), introducing structure and routine, improving fitness, and reforming cultural connections.
The program complements formal treatment, it is not a replacement for it. And, despite its infancy, the two-pronged approach taken by Allianz is looking extremely promising. There is still work to do, with an innovative approach of continuous review and improvement being practiced by practitioners and program administrators on a regular basis.
“Allianz is committed to empowering employers with the right knowledge, resources and initiatives to better support employees facing mental health issues,” adds Julie. “We believe that prioritising the wellbeing of employees, particularly the rising number of Australians experiencing mental health conditions, is key to building future, thriving workplaces.”
Watch this space for updates as we look to expand the program and support more injured workers in their recovery over the next 12 months.
NB as a result of Coronavirus the program saw some disruption in 2020 with a number of services paused for a period of time during lockdown.