Support for Women suffering with Mental Health

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2018 National Women's Conference
28 September 2017

UNISON recognises that the excessive pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture in the UK is one of the biggest challenges to the mental health of our members. If you look around your surroundings whether at home, at work or in your social life, how many women do you feel are suffering from a mental health issues. You might be surprised as many more women report unhappiness than men (42% of women compared with 29% of men). Both women and men can experience mental health problems, but some are more common among women such as anxiety disorders, depression, post-natal depression, work-related stress, dementia. Women will too often carry on suffering in silence as they try to hold everything together in their family, work and social lives, not wanting to feel that they are being a burden on others. More than 1 in 10 women within a year of giving birth will suffer with Postnatal Depression. It is not uncommon for postnatal depression to be persistent for many years after childbirth although it becomes classified, medically as depression.

Women between the ages of 16 and 24 are almost three times as likely to experience a common mental health problem (i.e. anxiety and depression), even though there is an increase of people being able to access treatments, but around a third of people with mental health problems have sought no professional help at all. Many voluntary organisations are working within the financial constraints of the government’s austerity measures and cuts to funding which has led to reduced services and huge waiting lists.

Evidence shows that generally women suffer in silence until they snap, sometimes over issues that, under different circumstances might be seen as trivial. If colleagues or friends ask if they are ok, the response is often “I am fine”. Additionally, some people with mental health problems face barriers in their workplaces, often due to ignorance and prejudice as well as the barriers of employers not adhering to their own policies, not providing line managers with proper training and sometime just blatantly ignoring some of the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act, in particular around how sickness absences are recorded.

Accessing external help can be difficult with the main source of support provided by a General Practitioner. As a consequence of the cuts to public services which have been shown to disproportionately impact on women, It is not easy to access counselling services and generally only the first few sessions are free; for some people ‘a few’ sessions will only scratch the surface of dealing with the issues. Additionally, it is becoming commonplace that where waiting lists for counselling are so long, some women are forced to return to work before any counselling sessions have begun.

Conference recognises the work that UNISON has undertaken to raise awareness of these issues and for the excellent resources and information leaflets that have been produced over the years for women members. However, evidence from MIND and the Department of Health new body ‘National Institute of Mental Health in England (MIMHE)’ recognise how much of a problem still exists and furthermore recognised the problem associated with returning to work after a period of ill-health and how sadly it is not uncommon for staff to find a less than helpful approach from their employer, with managers ignoring the provisions of their own policies and offering little to no support to staff. In worst case scenario’s this can lead to staff find that they are taken through capability processes.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England was launched under the Department of Health National Institute of Mental Health in England (MIMHE) as part of a national approach to improving public mental health. Their mission is to reduce the stigma associated with Mental Health through understanding and to work to break down barriers and offer support so that people can stay well, recover, or manage their symptoms. MHFA aims to give people the confidence to spot common signs and triggers of mental health issues and enables them to guide / signpost individuals to the appropriate support that they may require.

Conference calls on the National Women’s Committee to work with the relevant internal and external committee, groups and organisations to:

a)Campaign for mandatory Mental Health First Aid training for all managers to help them recognise early warning signs of distress and how to support staff.

b)Explore and develop a Mental Health First Aid training programme for all branch women’s officers