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National Stress Awareness Day: Meeting the challenge of health and social work professionals' mental health and wellbeing

On National Stress Awareness Day, the British Association of Social Workers has made a commitment with a range of partners from across several disciplines and organisations – including professionals who have used mental health services because of their experiences at work – on how we can work together to address the worsening problems of work-related trauma and stress.  

While this may be a longstanding concern, there is plenty of evidence that working with in public services under austerity, with increased demands, fewer resources and diminished career rewards, is worsening working conditions and leaving some professionals feeling more traumatised and unsupported.  

This has now led to the formation of an inter-professional support network drawn from a wide range of disciplines. The network comprises highly experienced psychologists, psychiatrists, general practitioners, social workers, paramedics, nurses, psychotherapists and occupational therapists.

The need for such a group has been made clearer from various recent reports that highlight a growing mental health challenge in the workplace.

Released this week, the study Thriving at work: The Stevenson / Farmer review of mental health and employers, which was commissioned by the Prime Minister in January 2017, summarised that “the UK is facing a mental health challenge at work that is much larger than [first] thought”.

It states: “Not only is there a big human cost of poor mental health at work, there are also knock on impacts for society, the economy and Government. Employers are losing billions of pounds because employees are less productive, less effective, or off sick.”

The authors recommend that “change be encouraged by increasing employer transparency – not only internally to their employees, but also across industries and through the public domain”.

This follows recent NHS figures that show the number of people making contact for mental health services has risen from 1,287,730 in 2010 to 1,825, 905 in 2016.

Shortly, the inter-professional support network will outline a detailed action plan, which initially will include writing a charter for professional standards to support the care and clinical supervision of staff, recognising that while we have standards for service users and carers, there remains a glaring absence of standards for those who are providing that care in terms of their own support needs.

The group plans to meet up again in January and then every three months onwards. Further objectives and action plans will follow shortly. 

Mike Bush, former social worker and mental health consultant, is a co-founder of the group and provides further information of its origins and aims in a blog.