“Lots of people don’t use mental health services until they are very ill because they are frightened of what will happen,” Mitsy Harman Russell told delegates as UNISON conference in Brighton this morning discussed what mental health support the union can offer to members.
She was just one speaker in a long list of delegates taking part in a thorough debate, praising the ‘mental health champions’ of the union in Cymru/Wales and calling for the programme to be expanded across the union, including having such champions and mental health first aiders available at union conferences and similar events.
Conference recognised that “mental health problems are frequently caused by difficult situations” at work – and seven years of Conservative austerity have lead “to very high levels of anxiety for those who lose their jobs and for those remaining, who face the pressure of being forced to do a lot more work with fewer resources.”
Introducing the debate on behalf of the union’s national disabled members’ committee, Kathleen Kennedy told conference: “One in four people experience mental health issues at least once in their life.
“Yet it is a taboo subject. A lack of understanding is there, still – many people don’t feel comfortable talking about it.”
But, as Ian Mooney, “a proud trade unionist and a proud nurse” from Cumbria and North Lancashire health branch, put it: “It is time to end the silence.”
Because, as he said, “mental ill health doesn’t discriminate, therefore why should we have to deal with discrimination.”
And “UNISON has a vital role to play in raising the issue,” Mark Fisher of Cymru/ Wales declared.
As Jane Carter of Bristol reminded conference: “Talking about it works.”
Union activists know, she said, that “we’re all working far too hard; all doing far too much. We need this for ourselves, and for others.
“We should all be mental health champions.”