Queensland Mental Health Week is an annual awareness initiative linked to World Mental Health Day, which is held annually on 10 October. During a time when the world has significantly changed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Queensland Mental Health Week encourages us to think about our mental health and wellbeing and understand the importance of the role mental health plays in our lives. Compensation Law Graduate, Henry Garrett, discusses the psychological impact COVID-19 has had on certain occupations.
Queensland Mental Health Week – held between 10-18 October 2020, is designed to promote community wellbeing and provide support for those who are struggling to cope with the demands of everyday life. There will be several events hosted across Queensland this week, which will act as a support network for any affected people in our community. This support couldn’t have come at a better time, as we start to see the affects that COVID-19 has had on our society – which is still ongoing.
We all know that some jobs are more dangerous than others. Law enforcement, military and construction workers usually fit the bill for those who voluntarily put themselves at risk at work each day.
Things have changed, we are now at war with a virus. COVID-19’s spread has posed risks to people working in all industries on an unprecedented scale. Yes, like all wars, COVID-19 will eventually end. But, a large portion of our workforce may be left to reckon with the psychological trauma of the pandemic.
Our personal injury department has seen a significant spike in the number of mental health related enquiries since March this year. A trend is developing made up of healthcare workers, police and emergency service personnel and fellow lawyers amongst those who have been hit the hardest.
Medical professionals have arguably been dealt the worst hand. In addition to their usual duties, they have been forced to the front-line to fight against the virus and treat those affected. Not only are they at risk of infection themselves, many have been forced to separate from their families to reduce the risk of spread in order to be able to continue doing their important work. Despite being medically trained and educated to manage these challenging situations, it doesn’t mean doctors, nurses, hospital staff and other medical professionals are immune from an unhealthy stress response.
Measures like social distancing and isolation may be helping to stop the spread, however, health care workers are under extreme pressure from the increased demand placed on the health system.
Long, irregular hours combined with heavy workloads can increase stress and put workers at risk of mental health issues, including being “burnt out”.
The recent death of Federal Circuit Court Judge Guy Andrew is a reminder of the stress facing Australia’s overworked judiciary and this tragedy has prompted legal figures to call for greater awareness of the extraordinary pressures placed on the legal profession and associated mental health impacts.
Judge Guy Andrew was found dead in Brisbane bushland on Thursday 08 October 2020 after he had been missing for five days.
Federal Circuit Court of Australia Chief Judge William Alstergren said Judge Andrew would be “dearly missed”.
“His Honour will be remembered as a fine, highly respected barrister and a diligent and determined judge who lived a life of service to others and to the law,” Justice Alstergren said.
“His tragic passing is a timely reminder of the extraordinary pressure on all who practice in the often highly emotive family law jurisdiction,” he said.
Former Queensland Law Society president and Brisbane lawyer Bill Potts said Judge Andrew’s death was tragic and “Being a legal professional is an extraordinarily difficult job, there are significant numbers of people in the legal profession who suffer from mental health issues.”
“Judges work at an enormous pace … in the glare of publicity. It’s not, unfortunately, a good thing … but it is a very understandable thing that our judges more often than not need support, help and understanding in their most difficult of jobs.”
Mr Potts said while there was a strong awareness of mental health issues in the justice system, there was more to be done.
People turn to the legal system to resolve some of the most difficult and personal problems in their lives. COVID-19 upped the stakes with many people’s livelihoods hit hard when the Government pressed pause on the economy.
Courts were impacted by the lockdown restrictions with urgent applications to the Family Court surging by almost 40 per cent since the pandemic hit.
With increased financial insecurity, employment and housing insecurity, and families spending sustained periods of time together during lockdown, family violence matters significantly increased.
Legal Practitioners have been faced with unprecedented pressures and demands and courts and law firms have had to find new ways to ensure they can provide important services to the community; at a time they are most vulnerable. The pressure is mounting on the industry to keep up with the critical workload and to resolve matters and disputes quickly and effectively so that people are able to move on with their lives.
Police, SES and our military have had the relentless chore of policing our border closures. It is estimated that as many as 1,500 people were required each day to manage the work of inspecting border passes and restricting vehicle access to Queensland at the QLD-NSW border checkpoint.
With a significant rise in domestic violence and disputes as a result of the lockdown, combined with law enforcement’s general duties, police and military personnel were stretched beyond their means.
Police have had two roles to play in response to the public health emergency in addition to their regular duties. These included:
- Exercising increased powers: In an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, Governments expanded the role of police to not only uphold existing laws, but to enforce new public health directions.
- Reducing the flow of people into the criminal legal system: Police play a significant role in reducing the flow of persons into the criminal legal system. With courts closing across the country and many trials suspended, prisons were at capacity. The consequences of a COVID-19 outbreak to people in custody could be devastating for those locked up and for police members alike.
With law enforcement officers expected to coordinate local shutdowns, monitor social distancing and enforce stay-at-home directives, all while completing their general duties, the pressure is mounting for those on the front line.
Policing can be one of the most mentally taxing occupations contending with long and often rotating shifts, threats of violence and lack of public support. With additional responsibilities and society frustrated with the extra restrictions imposed on them, in general, law enforcement officers are more likely than the general population to suffer from depression and experience mental health issues.
Beyond Blue undertook a National Mental Health and Wellbeing Study of Police and Emergency Services between October 2017 and March 2018, with the results released in November 2018. The study was called ‘Answering the call’ and was the first national survey of the mental health and wellbeing of personnel in the police and emergency services.
- One in three employees experience high or very high psychological distress; much higher than just over one in eight among all adults in Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2015);
- More than one in 2.5 employees and one in three volunteers report having been diagnosed with a mental health condition in their life compared to one in five of all adults in Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2015);
- Employees and volunteers report having suicidal thoughts over two times higher than adults in the general population (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016) and are more than three times more likely to have a suicide plan;
- More than half of all employees indicated that they had experienced a traumatic event that had deeply affected them during the course of their work;
- Poor workplace practices and culture were found to be as damaging to mental health as occupational trauma;
- One in four surveyed former employees experience probable PTSD (compared to one in 10 current employees)
These results are alarming, and keep in mind, the results were based on a survey prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beyond Blue’s ‘Answering the call’ survey, along with a Commonwealth Senate inquiry and an independent review of Queensland’s Workers’ Compensation process were driving forces behind legislative changes, which commenced July 1, 2020, to support first responders. It was welcome news when Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace presented a Bill to Parliament amending the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003. The amendment intended to make it easier for first responders who develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) access support and medical care they need.
What is Attwood Marshall Lawyers doing to help?
Attwood Marshall Lawyers are ready for the increased demand to help those in need of legal services.
Whether it be psychological WorkCover claims, employment issues, family law matters, domestic violence incidents, claims for accidents and injuries, commercial lease disputes, our team have acted quickly and effectively to support those in need.
We have implemented a COVID Safe Plan at all our offices. Our staff have access to flexible work arrangements when needed so they can continue to work safely and be there to support their own families where children may be impacted by school closures and other events.
Our staff are offered access to psychological support services if they feel it is required. Our teams catch up regularly to ensure everyone is coping with workloads, as well as coping with what is happening outside of work.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers are proud of our corporate culture and more importantly like to ensure our team feel supported and can reach out to each other if they need help.
We encourage our business partners and clients to do the same. It is our intent to help people and change their lives for the better. If there is an opportunity to go above and beyond, our team will certainly do so.
Queensland Mental Health Week presents an opportunity to ensure we keep mental wellness as a top priority and open the discussion for strategies and interventions to help promote, protect and restore mental health throughout all communities.
If you have been impacted by a traumatic event, or require legal assistance, our friendly and experienced team can help any time. Contact us 24/7 on 1800 621 071. Your initial appointment is free and approved compensation cases are accepted on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
- Headspace on 1800 650 890
- ReachOut at reachout.com
- Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN)on 1800 008 774