Kathy Roberts, Chief Executive, Association of Mental Health Providers
Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive, Centre for Mental Health and Trustee, The Association
The coronavirus pandemic has put pressure on mental health across society, and it brings especial challenges for the health and care workforce. Significant attention has been paid to the emotional and psychological needs of staff working in the NHS and, belatedly, local government.
By contrast, little attention has been paid to the needs of people working and volunteering in the voluntary and community sector, despite the fact that many are experiencing similar traumas, anxieties and pressures as those in statutory services.
The impact of the pandemic on the mental health of people working in public services is already significant. There is evidence internationally, from this and previous epidemics, that staff working in ‘front line’ roles are particularly affected by the trauma of dealing with the virus and the everyday risks they face. We know that people working in health and care and support services, including mental health, are at greater risk from the virus as a result of their occupations. Tragically, some have lost their lives to it. Many more will have been unwell and recovered, in some instances with lasting psychological impacts. And growing numbers have experienced bereavement during this time, in their families, social networks and workplaces.
For people working in the voluntary and community sector, many of the issues will be the same as for health and care and support staff in the statutory sector. As well as the immediate risks of getting the virus and becoming seriously unwell, many staff and volunteers have stepped up for months on end to meet people’s needs during the lockdown. Burnout is a major threat to the wellbeing of workers who have done everything they can during the crisis to help others, often at risk to themselves. This cannot last forever, and mustn’t be taken for granted.
For some staff and volunteers, there will be additional pressures at this time. Large numbers will have caring responsibilities at home, or they will be living with long-term conditions that increase their risk of severe symptoms from the virus. Staff and volunteers from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities face added stress and anxiety from discrimination and harassment, as research published recently by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations has shown. And many staff and volunteers also face bullying at work: a situation made all the more difficult at the present time.
Association of Mental Health Providers and Centre for Mental Health will be investigating what can be done to support the psychological health and well-being of the people who work in voluntary and community sector mental health (and related) services. We will be seeking practical solutions to securing the wellbeing of voluntary and community sector workers at one of the most testing times many will have been through. We want to explore practical ways in which difficulties can be prevented where possible and addressed quickly and effectively where necessary. And we want to explore how health and care systems locally can provide the leadership and support to ensure voluntary and community organisations are not left behind in wider efforts to support the wellbeing of public service staff.
Voluntary and community organisations have shown what it means to step up during Covid-19. We now owe it to the people who made that possible to show that their wellbeing matters too.