Musculoskeletal and mental health disorders in the workplace - The underlying causes and contributory risk factors.

Pamela Gellatly of Healthcare RM looks at the link between musculoskeletal and mental health disorders in the workplace and how organisations need to join the dots to reduce their risk and benefit their employees.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSCs), and, in particular, the experience of musculoskeletal-related pain has been one of the many unanswered questions relating to a person’s perception of ill health, that may or may not have an underlying organic cause. The paradox of a person’s belief that there is something physically wrong with them when clinicians cannot find a tangible reason has not only been of interest to the clinical profession but has fascinated philosophers for many years. The development of the biopsychosocial model broadened the concept of a psychological and social contribution in relation to musculoskeletal disorders but, arguably has not been extended to mental health (MH).

However, what is evident is that a person’s belief that they are stressed, anxious or depressed and is an illness that requires treating, is equally important in mental health as it is in musculoskeletal health. Over the last twenty years, there has been a clear focus on work-related mental health with work often cited as the main causative factor. This focus is now starting to change as we accept that work-related stressors, inherent in most jobs, cannot be isolated from personal stressors and that mental ill health in the workplace rarely has a single causation but is often multifactorial in nature, and therefore requires a multidimensional solution.

Musculoskeletal and mental health disorders are intertwined, as are other conditions and continuing to assess symptoms as a single condition, with a single causation, requiring a single intervention pathway, will result in a continuing failure to prevent, assess and manage these (and other) conditions appropriately.

The purpose of this article is to introduce some of the issues that exist at a physical, psychological and social level and the interrelationships with an organisation’s health, safety and wellbeing policies and benefits, which can adversely affect the onset, maintenance and severity of both conditions.

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