Almost half of Ireland’s health workers have experienced mental health difficulties, and over a quarter are currently experiencing a mental health issue, according to a new survey published by Fórsa. A higher proportion (55%) of workers aged under 35 said they had experienced a mental health issue in the past, while 30% of this age group said they were currently experiencing a problem.
The results of a survey published at the union’s Health Division conference last week showed that over 60% those who responded said they would be uncomfortable discussing a mental health issue with their line manager, with over a third (37%) saying they would be "very uncomfortable doing so."
Just over 80% said their employer was doing too little to promote mental health awareness, and only 7% said they were very well supported at work while experiencing mental health difficulties. Some 38% said they were either very or moderately unsupported.
But, on a positive note, over two-thirds said they would be comfortable initiating a conversation with a colleague they knew was experiencing a mental health issue. Just over a fifth said they would be very or moderately uncomfortable doing so.
A large number of respondents said the union should address the stigma around mental illness in the workplace and elsewhere. They also expressed concern that mental health issues could have a negative impact on their career prospects.
Staff shortages and working time were among the issues linked to workplace mental health difficulties in the survey responses. The most common answers to an open-ended question about the actions needed to tackle the issue also included encouraging discussion, agreeing policies with employers, providing information and training to members, featuring mental health in campaigns, strengthening bullying policies and procedures, and promoting mental health initiatives.
In response to the survey results, Fórsa official Catherine Keogh said the union was ready to engage with health service management to strengthen policies and procedures to promote good mental health in the workplace, and to deal supportively with mental illness.
“The finding that half our members have experienced mental health issues is a wake-up call. Our survey clearly shows that health workers are supportive of colleagues in difficulty, but that management isn’t doing enough either to raise awareness or help staff who experience mental health problems. We are determined to find ways to promote a more proactive and positive response in the Irish health service,” she said.
The online survey was conducted using Fórsa’s members’ health e-bulletin between 3rd and 30th April 2019. Some 84% of respondents were women, which broadly reflects the union’s membership in the health sector. Fórsa represents some 30,000 staff in a variety of health settings. They include health and social care professionals, clerical and administrative staff, technical grades, and others.