NHS Workers’ Mental Health: they look after us, now it’s time for us to look after them

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By Joel Gujral, Founder of MYNDUP

Our NHS staff have rightfully been celebrated far and wide for the work they have done during the Covid-19 pandemic. Throughout a tumultuous period where so little seemed certain, they have provided consistency, reliability and excellence when their patients needed it most.

While NHS workers’ place in the hearts and minds of the British public is secure, what we haven’t yet focused on sufficiently is the issue of mental health among NHS staff, in particular what more we can do to help them cope with the stresses and anxieties of working long hours, helping with critical care, and seeing patients lose their lives. 

The issues they are facing are very real: the 2020 NHS Staff Survey results revealed that more than 44% felt unwell due to stress in 2020, with 26.5% often thinking of leaving and 20% actively looking for a new job. What’s more, mental health services set up for NHS staff in the wake of Covid were accessed almost 800,000 times between March 2020 and March 2021.

Workplace mental health gets much more attention today than it once did, which shows how much progress has been made. However, the support on offer to healthcare workers is still lacking, focusing generally on a “one-size-fits-all” approach rather than something that caters to the individual needs of each person. This issue needs to be tackled if we are to build a happy, fulfilled NHS workforce in the long term.

One size doesn’t fit all

In many walks of life, employees now have access to some form of mental health support should they need it. While any assistance – especially for NHS staff – is welcome, it won’t help properly address issues if support isn’t personalised. We are all unique, so we cannot rely on generic approaches to our own mental health.

Consider the entire mental health spectrum and how diverse it is. Someone suffering from anxiety is not the same as someone suffering from depression. Similarly, a worker looking for help to address emotional trauma is not the same as an employee looking for life coaching to boost their confidence and self-esteem. If the workplace mental health support on offer simply covers, for example, basic therapy or counselling, it will only work for a small proportion of employees.

This is something I’ve experienced myself in my own working life. A few years ago, I spent eight months in and out of hospital with an undiagnosed physical illness, which took a severe toll on my mental health. I reached out to occupational health at my corporate company, but experienced this “one-size-fits-all” approach first hand. It was only when I found a fantastic life coach through my own independent research that I managed to turn my life around.

Recent research also bears this out further. A survey of working adults across a range of industries with children of school age found that 54% want their employers to introduce specific mental wellness days, with this figure increasing to 59% for female respondents.

A more nuanced approach

Any support programme should be put together with all of the various mental health challenges in mind, so HR staff and NHS leaders must take the time to fully understand what these are and take action. To cover all the bases, the types of support offered should be numerous, ranging from therapy and counselling, through to other services such as psychology, life coaching, careers guidance and meditation.

Each member of staff should have the freedom to find and pick a service that suits them, before embarking on a course that helps them to achieve their goals. The key is providing the flexibility and choice that traditional mental health services often lack, instead of forcing someone to speak to someone they don’t know without having the option to vet a practitioner themselves.

Perhaps most importantly of all, these services should be available free-of-charge to both NHS staff and the trusts that they work for. Healthcare employees work hard for us, so we should be willing to return the favour.

They look after us, we look after them

The pandemic has, more than any other event in living memory, affirmed to us that our healthcare workers should never be taken for granted. Every single NHS employee should feel empowered and fulfilled in their roles, as a happy employee is a productive one. After all, it is no coincidence that every £1 spent on employee mental health offers an average return of £4.

Mental health is one of the most critical components in achieving this, especially for people working on the front lines of a health crisis. If we work hard to expand the range of support on offer to them, it will pay dividends in the long run. We’ve been tasked as a nation with protecting the NHS since Covid-19 first struck: let’s now move on from clapping for our health professionals, and do something truly meaningful to improve their wellbeing. 

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