Mental Health & the NHS: Getting the right workplace support


Health Care Assistants - 10 months ago

A recent report of 170 NHS trusts across Britain revealed that the number of staff taking long-term stress leave had increased by 19 per cent between 2014 and 2016, with a total of 204,573 NHS employees taking time off to deal with stress, anxiety or another mental health-related issue.

What’s going wrong? 

In the year of its 70th birthday, the NHS faces increasing issues around funding with staff working longer hours with fewer resources. In a BBC report in September 2017, Dave Munday, mental health professional lead at Unite, which represents 100,000 health workers across the UK, commented: “These figures are of real concern and they only tell part of the story. We know that many more mental health professionals will feel unwell but try to ‘soldier on’ or mask the real reason they’re taking leave.”

In the same report, a spokesperson for the Royal College of Nursing said: “The pressure to make the right decision and provide care for extremely vulnerable people against a backdrop of staff shortages can take its toll on their health and wellbeing.”

What’s being done to help?

Although the Department of Health stated it was transforming mental health care for everyone, including NHS employees, with record amounts of investment, they admitted more can still be done: “We are undertaking one of the largest expansions of mental health services in Europe, so that all staff have the time to look after themselves as well as others.”

In the meantime, responsibility lies with NHS managers and workers to identify and support their colleagues who may be suffering from mental health issues. But what does that entail? Here, using key guidance from the Mental Health Foundation, we offer tips and advice to help NHS workers recognise mental health issues, both in themselves and in their colleagues, in order to take action.

Recognising when you might need help

The Mental Health Foundation states you should seek help from your GP if you have difficult feelings that are:

- Stopping you getting on with life
- Having an impact on the people you live or work with
- Affecting your mood over several weeks
- Causing you to have thoughts of suicide.

We know that a career in healthcare can be exhausting, but mental health issues can make us feel a lot more tired than usual. It can result in making uncharacteristic mistakes, finding it hard to motivate ourselves, slips in timekeeping and becoming short-tempered.

You may have also started isolating yourself, whether in your social life or through avoiding colleagues in the workplace. You might grind to a halt or even speed up and become chaotic, intruding into others’ conversations and work or taking on more work than you can manage.

Recognising a colleague might be struggling

You might see more visible signs of a mental health problem in a colleague, including:

- Outbursts of anger or emotion
- Absences from work
- Not looking after their appearance as they usually would
- Signs they’ve been sleeping less or drinking more.

What can we do to help ourselves and others?

The Mental Health Foundation offers 10 evidence-based ways to improve your mental health and that of those around you. Here are some that are most effective:

- Keep talking. If you’re open about how you feel at work, especially as a leader, it can encourage others to do the same.

- Stay active. Regular exercise, even if it’s just a quick walk on your break, can boost self-esteem and can help you concentrate, sleep, and look and feel better.

- Eat well. It can be difficult, especially with shift work, to keep up a healthy pattern of eating at work. Try to eat regular healthy meals and drink lots of water. Bring food from home to avoid unhealthy options on offer in work canteens and convenience stores.

- Keep in touch. Relationships, both in and outside of work, are crucial to our mental health. With experts believing that loneliness may be as bad for our health as smoking or obesity, it’s important to stay connected with colleagues and relatives.

- Ask for help. You’re not expected to go through life as a robot and, inevitably, you may need to help every now and again. Don’t be afraid to speak to a manager or ask if there’s is occupational health support in place.

Supporting colleagues day-to-day

Whether a colleague needs support on an ongoing basis or while they navigate a particularly difficult time, it’s important to check in with them regularly. If you’re a manager, then you should provide them with the opportunity to discuss their mental health in one-to-one sessions. If you want to get more involved, you could offer to become their mentor or take them for a coffee outside of the workplace from time to time. Everyone is different so you’ll need to ask or try to gauge the support your colleague needs. Keep talking and remain open and emphatic to discussions regarding mental health with those you work alongside.

For more information about supporting mental health in the workplace, head to the Mental Health Foundation for helpful resources. If you think it’s time for a role or career change in healthcare, take a look at our latest roles.