Blog: On mental health, there is so much more that all of us can do

It was great to be in Cardiff this morning to speak to UNISON Cymru Wales Mental Health Conference, on Mental Health Day.

It’s an important day for our union, an opportunity for us all to reflect on the work that we’ve done in this crucial area and also to consider how much more must be done.

A huge amount has been done on this vital issue in Wales, and everyone involved – activists and staff alike – deserve a huge amount of praise and credit for all that they’ve achieved.

And I hope that the next success in their campaign will be for the Welsh government to appoint the Minister for Mental Health that we’ve been calling for.

Because making mental health a visible and tangible issue is absolutely vital. Too often it can be a subject about which too many are wary of talking about, but we can and must talk about mental health, not least because the number of mental health cases we’re seeing is on the increase.

In fact, 1 in 4 of us will have mental health problems this year.

So fostering an open and supportive attitude to mental health in the workplace is crucial. Providing an environment that promotes good mental health is something we all – including all employers – should aspire to. Whether it’s supporting those with existing mental health conditions with reasonable adjustments or making sure workers are not given tasks which would have a negative impact on their mental health

There is so much more that all of us can do.

Real action by employers to help reduce mental health issues matters to UNISON – not least because of the sectors that we represent.

It won’t surprise many of you to know that that stress levels among those looking after others’ mental health is worryingly high.

And staff shortages have left mental health staff more vulnerable to violence and aggression from service users and unable to provide the level of care that’s needed.

Those working in the ambulance sector are also more likely to face mental health issues, as a direct result of their work – which is why we’ve been proud to work with and support Mind on their Blue Light campaign.

That included producing a booklet for emergency service workers to deal with their own or colleagues mental health issues.

Our dear friend and former President Eric Roberts – an ambulance workers himself – chose Blue Light as his Presidential charity. Sadly Eric passed away last year, but undeterred, UNISON and our members raised over £20,000 to support the work of Mind Blue Light, and the vital support they deliver for emergency workers.

That shows how much our union and our members value the work that Mind does – and in the year ahead we’ll need to work even more closely together. Because the strain public services are under means those who deliver those services are facing the strain too.

So UNISON is working to ensure that every public service employer fulfils their duty to their employees.

Employers rely on their dedicated staff to provide essential services in often difficult circumstances brought on by the austerity agenda and the “do more with less” approach. It is their duty to care for the health, safety and welfare of their workers and to reduces risk to them as far as they can.

And our public service workers deserve no less.