AFSCME supports legislative proposal to study mental health in the workplace

Many AFSCME members work in high-stress fields such as public safety, health care, emergency medical services and firefighting. Their jobs have become even more stressful since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many of these workers to put their and their families’ well-being at risk while serving their communities.

But when these everyday heroes face mental health issues as a result of the high-stress environment and duties that expose them to trauma, they are often expected to deal with such challenges on their own.

It’s time to change that.

AFSCME supports an amendment to the Mental Health Matters Act (H.R. 7780) that would direct the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to study and make recommendations for workers whose mental health is affected by their work. The legislative proposal is based on AFSCME-endorsed legislation introduced by Rep. Frank Mrvan (D-Ind.) that the House of Representatives approved last month.

“This amendment recognizes the need to address mental health at an organizational level,” AFSCME wrote to members of Congress.

AFSCME’s letter adds that the amendment “recognizes that it is time we stop adding to the burden of probation officers, correction officers, public safety workers, health care workers and others by demanding that they ‘deal with it’ outside of work or figure out how to provide self-care when the nature of the work leaves them burnt out, stressed, or in despair that they do not want to share.”

The amendment would require NIOSH to conduct research and fund training to identify workplace interventions that make a difference and achieve better mental health outcomes for workers. It calls on the agency to consult with other federal departments and agencies to research strategies and interventions for occupations with an elevated risk of workplace stress, post-traumatic stress or suicide attempts.

The need for federal research to address mental health in the workplace couldn’t be more pressing. Rates of suicide among correctional officers are higher than that of the general population. For instance, a recent study in Massachusetts found that the average suicide rate of COs in the commonwealth between 2010 and 2015 was at least seven times higher than the national suicide rate and almost 12 times higher than the suicide rate for Massachusetts. Three out of four health care workers report exhaustion and burnout and feeling overwhelmed. Those are but a few examples.

AFSCME also supports legislation that would end the option for some health care plans to avoid providing parity for state and local government workers regarding behavioral health care benefits versus traditional medical care benefits. The House passed this legislative proposal with overwhelming bipartisan support in June as part of Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022 (H.R. 7666).

Workers in high-risk professions put their well-being on the line every day to protect us and make our communities better. It is time that our country protect them as well.