Mental illness a big issue for health workers; 1 in 4 experiencing mental health issue

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One in two health workers in Ireland have experienced mental health difficulties, it has emerged. Of particular concern is the fact that more than one in four is currently experiencing a mental health issue.

The findings are from a survey published by trade union Fórsa ahead of its health and welfare division conference that opens in Sligo later today. Over 60% of the 1,600-plus health workers who responded to the survey said they would feel uncomfortable discussing a mental health issue with their line manager.

One in eight said their employer was doing “too little” to promote mental health awareness. Only 7% felt they were very well supported at work while experiencing mental health difficulties. However, over two-thirds said they would be comfortable starting a conversation with a colleague who they knew was experiencing a mental health issue.

Staff shortages and working time were among the issues linked to workplace mental health difficulties. Many workers used the survey to urge the union to address the stigma around mental illness in the workplace and elsewhere.

They also expressed concern mental health issues could have a negative impact on their career prospects. The chair of Fórsa’s health division, Martin Walsh, said the union “would redouble its efforts” to address the stigma surrounding mental illness in the workplace and elsewhere.

Mr Walsh said:

For too long the stigma that surrounds mental illness has added to the misery of those who suffer, and stood as a barrier between them and a healthy and happy life

“If surveys were telling us that half our workforce was experiencing influenza, chronic back pain, or any other physical ailment, I have no doubt that there would be immediate and urgent action from employers and government.”

Fórsa official Catherine Keogh described the finding that half their members had experienced mental health issues as a “wake up call.” Ms Keogh said the survey “clearly showed” that while health workers supported colleagues in difficulty, management was not doing enough, either to raise awareness or help staff who were experiencing mental health problems.

The conference will debate seven motions on mental health and related issues on Thursday afternoon. The union’s health and welfare division executive has tabled motions pledging to engage with health service management to remove mental illness stigma and create a supportive environment for members experiencing mental health issues.

Other motions call for improvements in occupational health services, a better response to the negative effects of social media abuse, and action to tackle depression in the workplace. An executive motion will also call for more investment in HSE and other mental health services to the public.

Representatives from Mental Health Ireland and See Change will also speak at the conference on Thursday. The majority of survey respondents (84%) were women, which broadly reflects the union’s membership in the health sector.

Fórsa represents around 30,000 staff in a variety of health settings. They include health and social care professionals, clerical and administrative staff, technical grades, and others. The union’s senior general secretary designate, Kevin Callinan, will address the conference on Thursday morning.

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