In recent years, workplaces and the health and safety system have developed a much clearer understanding of mental health and the work factors that can threaten a worker’s mental wellbeing. That comes as a relief to Margaret Campbell Mercer.
“It is hard to accept what my husband John experienced,” she says, “but I believe the culture has changed for the better.”
John Mercer injured his back while working as a meat cutter. When he attempted to return to work after his injury, “John’s pain escalated as he was not physically or mentally able to fulfill his job requirements but was pressured to return to work,” Margaret says. She adds that the pressure to return to his job, combined with the “subtle comments” at work because of his injuries, caused mental health stress and psychological injury. Eventually John suffered a massive heart attack and died. His death was eventually declared to be a workplace fatality, caused by his injury and chronic stress. Read John’s story here.
Margaret says: “We were devastated. But the signs were there. It is well-documented medically that John was under a huge amount of distress due to his work-related injuries. John’s injuries caused physical pain, anxiety, marital distress, family disconnect, psychological illness and inevitably death.”
Margaret would like others to know John’s story to try to improve awareness and understanding of the effects a workplace injury can have on mental health, and the impact of work-related stress.
“Many people still are ashamed to discuss work-related stress, and I believe John’s story could help many people,” she says. “Every day I talk to someone about John.”
Psychosocial hazards can include bullying and harassment at work, as well as more subtle factors that affect a worker’s mental wellbeing. The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) has a standard regarding psychological health and safety in the workplace, and most provinces and territories have legislation governing bullying and harassment. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) offers information on how to assess and control psychosocial hazards.
Through the long journey of John’s injuries and her own grief, Margaret has had to become conscious of her own mental wellbeing too. For self-care, she says, “I do a lot of walking and breathing meditation. I try to recognize what my body tells me when I haven’t been around people, and then I connect with friends.”
She notes that helping others is also good for her mental health.
For others experiencing mental stresses related to work or injuries, Margaret’s advice is: “Talk to a trusted family member or friend. Many organizations have EAP (Employee Assistance Program), workplace safety standards, or various other criteria for mental wellness at work.”
“Government agencies have 24-hour crisis lines to provide support and there are various injured workers programs throughout the country. Talk to your employer or medical professional. It can be as simple as an informal conversation with your employer or employee about stress in the workplace.”