Sector needs to act on mental health of staff

28 Apr 2015 Guest Author    Last updated: 6 Jul 2015

Peter McBride: deep concerns

Professor Peter McBride chief executive of the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health (Niamh)  argues the Third Sector must act now to stave off a mental health crisis amongst employees following cuts. 

There will be no winners as an outcome of the recent reduction of funding to the community and voluntary sector. There are many important agencies in our sector, delivering vital support and advice services so that everyone in society is supported to have the quality of life they deserve. 

Our concern as a mental health charity is not only in relation to the impact on service delivery and, more crucially the end service user, but also the impact on the mental health of individuals working in the sector that now either face redundancy or increasing pressure to maintain services.

Research carried out by Roehampton University when the recession took hold in England in 2010 showed that the incidence of depression jumped by between four and five-fold as unemployment, cuts in hours and concern about security of tenure became common. 71% of those made redundant reported suffering symptoms of depression, 55% said the same about stress and 52% experienced symptoms of anxiety.

The Centre for Mental Health has calculated that the business cost of mental ill-health at work is £26 billion across the UK. It has been shown that improving the management of mental ill-health in the workplace can generate of £1,800 each year for every worker with a mental health condition.

However, more importantly, the cost to an individual’s wellbeing can be both significant and long-lasting. If left untreated or unsupported, the individual stresses associated with either redundancy or an ever increasing workload for those left behind can all too easily develop into a significant mental health condition that can take many years to recover from.

Carecall, our workplace wellbeing division, has already seen a year on year increase in requests for support from staff as the effects of statutory funding cuts start to take their toll and anticipates that demand for support for employees experiencing stress and mental health difficulties will grow even further as the full impact of the austerity measures really starts to bite this year.

Early intervention is the key to ensure that, as much as possible, the mental health of employees can be protected during these difficult times. I am personally urging colleagues in the sector to put in place plans now to safeguard the wellbeing of their staff and to encourage open and honest dialogue within their organisations about risks to mental health to empower staff to come forward and seek help if they need it.

In the workplace there can all too often be a stigma surrounding mental health as it can be seen as a ‘weakness’. Within the community and voluntary sector, staff are so focused on helping others, that they often put their own needs to the bottom of the pile. As responsible employers, it is our duty to support those employees who have given so much to our community.

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