Researchers hope to identify factors contributing to mental and physical health
In a groundbreaking move for Northwestern Ontario, the Enhancing the Prevention of Injury and Disability at Work Research Institute (EPID@Work) at Lakehead University is embarking on the largest cohort study ever conducted in the region. This ambitious research initiative, known as the Northwestern Ontario Workplace & Worker Health Cohort Study (NOWWHS), aims to delve into the intricate web of workplace factors affecting mental health and the overall well-being of workers.
"The purpose is to understand and identify factors associated with mental health issues in the workplace so we can try to better understand what the drivers in the workplace are leading to mental health issues," explains Dr. Vicki Kristman, the lead researcher and executive director of EPID@Work.
The NOWWHS study's reach is expansive, targeting not only the mental health aspects but also considering broader health-related factors. "It's an opportunity really to study worker health over a long period of time." The study will also examine various health comorbidities such as diabetes, musculoskeletal problems, and brain health to offer a comprehensive view.
With a goal of 5000 participants, NOWWHS aims to engage workers and employers from diverse backgrounds, including small businesses and larger corporations. "We'd like to have at least three businesses per industrial sector," says Dr. Kristman, emphasizing the need for inclusivity and diversity in the study.
While the research targets Northwestern Ontario, Dr. Kristman highlighted its potential for broader geographical implications, saying, "I do think a lot of what we're going to learn from this study is going to be generalizable to beyond Northwestern Ontario." However, the study's primary focus remains on the region, conducted by researchers with an intimate understanding of its unique context.
The study's timeline is ambitious, with data collection aimed to be completed within three months. Dr. Kristman is confident in the project’s success, "we've got people dedicated to the data collection, and we're getting quite a few people signing up already."
To ensure continued engagement, participants will be followed up every six months, with a dedicated effort to keep them informed about the study's progress. Dr. Kristman also mentioned plans for a dashboard to empower participants with insights from the study.
Ultimately, the NOWWHS cohort study aspires to drive meaningful change in the workplace. "I'm hoping the findings will lead to changes in workplaces that will improve the mental health of workers," says Dr. Kristman.
As workplaces evolve, especially in the post-pandemic era, understanding the specific challenges faced by various sectors, including nurses, immigrant workers, and remote employees, will be crucial.
To participate in the study, individuals need to be at least 14 years old, employed, self-employed, or have been employed in the past year. The study is open to any workplace in Northwestern Ontario with at least one employee.
For businesses with over 20 employees, participation offers the added benefit of receiving a detailed report tailored to their workforce. Smaller employers will receive an aggregate report to protect worker confidentiality.
The NOWWHS cohort study represents a significant step toward enhancing workplace mental health. As Dr. Kristman aptly puts it, "this study is for Northwestern Ontario, conducted by researchers living in Northwestern Ontario for the North." It is a collaborative effort aimed at shaping a healthier and more supportive work environment for everyone in the region.
For more information and to participate in the study, visit the website at workinghealth.ca, as Dr. Kristman emphasized, "anybody can participate." This initiative has the potential to bring about transformative change and set a precedent for future workplace mental health research.