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#BellLetsTalk – Depression and low back pain

Today, January 27, 2016, is the annual Bell Let’s Talk Day. Across Canada, this initiative invites people to use social media to share #BellLetsTalk as a means to promote awareness for mental health issues, remove misconceptions people have about mental health, and attempt to develop a collective conversation on ways to improve social support for those suffering from mental health issues. Bell Media tabulates the number of social media tweets, shares, likes and text messages sent today using the #BellLetsTalk tag and/or logo and donates $0.05 per action to mental health initiatives. As of 9am (MST), #BellLetsTalk had nearly 20 million social media actions, and this will continue to grow throughout the day.

At EWI Works, we decided to support this program, and relate it to our day-to-day work by talking about how mental health issues might impact physical symptoms experienced by employees in industry. Specially, we reviewed an article on the impact of depression symptoms on low back pain.

Back injuries are the most commonly reported injury and/or lost time claim in North America. Most people who suffer a back injury are able to rehabilitate and return to work within a few weeks, but upwards of 33% of back pain/injury sufferers continue to have issues that impact on their day to day life. Some research has noted that psychosocial factors may play a key role in development and recovery of back pain (Pinheiro et al., 2016).

In their review article, Pinheiro et al. noted that there was a number of articles that showed individuals who have symptoms of depression tend to have worse low back pain outcomes during follow-up. Evidence suggests that the impact of depression on worsening outcomes may be more pronounced with individuals who have more initially severe back injuries or conditions. The authors caution that more research is required, as other key physical and psychosocial factors also play a role, and a better understanding of how depression impacts on physical symptoms is needed (Pinherio et al., 2016). No overall conclusions can be drawn for clinical treatment of depression and back pain at this time.

However, given that this article does identify that depression symptoms impact on back pain it is worth considering for the workplace. When back pain or injury is reported, it is often the case that an employer will invest in adaptation of the work to better accommodate the worker and reduce reported symptoms. This is a required step, for certain. But, perhaps it is also important to let an injured employee know that there are outlets at the workplace for them to talk to, and that the company also supports mental health initiatives. Improvement of symptoms and recovery may be positively impacted by using both the physical workplace intervention and mental health support initiatives. Our workplace interventions may need to be adapted to include explicit consideration of physical and mental health outcomes in the future.

1 in 5 Canadians will suffer from a mental health issue at some point in their lives. These issues will have an impact on their personal lives and their work. Providing support to individuals suffering from these issues is critical to a well rounded safety and wellness program.

Please support mental health initiatives today using #BellLetsTalk, and continue this support throughout the year by having support structures at your workplace.

Reference:

Pinheiro, M. B., Ferreira, M. L., Refshauge, K., Maher, C. G., Ordoñana, J. R., Andrade, T. B., ... & Ferreira, P. H. (2016). Symptoms of depression as a prognostic factor for low back pain: a systematic review. The Spine Journal, 16(1), 105-116.

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