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Silent suffering: 12k NHS staff reluctant to share mental health and well-being struggles

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Latest UNISON survey underscores mental health absence affecting over 30 per cent of NHS staff including paramedics, and nurses

A recent UNISON survey has unveiled the alarming impact of mental health issues on NHS employees, exacerbating the ongoing staffing crisis in the healthcare sector.

The survey, encompassing over 12,000 health workers across the UK, revealed that more than three in ten (31 per cent) NHS staff had to take time off work due to mental health issues in the past year.

Nurses, paramedics, and other healthcare workers reported experiencing a range of mental and physical symptoms, including depression, panic attacks, high blood pressure, and sleepless nights.

Despite the prevalence of these issues, the survey highlighted a concerning stigma surrounding mental health, with one in five employees concealing the real cause of their absence.

Among the reasons cited for this reluctance were concerns about the lack of support from managers or employers (45 per cent) and fear of judgment from colleagues (22 per cent).

Helga Pile, UNISON‘s head of health, emphasized the urgent need for action to address the overwhelming pressures faced by NHS staff.

She said, “Many NHS staff are clearly at their limit. Burnout is a reality in every part of the health service, from hospital wards to ambulance stations.”

She underscored the importance of recognizing the value of healthcare workers and implementing measures to support their well-being, including safer staffing levels, measures to combat bullying and harassment, and access to mental health support services.

Responding to the survey, Dr. Ananta Dave, the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Presidential Lead for Wellbeing and Retention, emphasized the toll that “burnout” is taking on NHS employees.

“Our own members report struggling with increasingly unmanageable workloads due to rising demand. They are under intense pressure which has been exacerbated by chronic staff vacancies and often don’t have enough colleagues they can rely on for support,” he said.

While noting that “a significant portion of staff also did not feel comfortable sharing their concerns with their manager”, he further called  for prioritizing initiatives to address staff shortages, silent suffering, and ensure adequate support for mental health and well-being, including sustained funding for NHS staff mental health and wellbeing hubs.

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