‘If you’re struggling, you’re not alone’

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and the pandemic is having a significant and negative impact on our collective mental health. But don’t worry, your union is here to help

We are all living through an overwhelmingly challenging time at the moment. One that’s affecting all of us in many different ways.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown our daily lives upside down and, whether on the frontline or not, UNISON members have been coping with huge amounts of stress over the past year and a half.

A recent UNISON survey found that 48% of members working in health sectors are struggling to cope. Fear, worry and stress are all survival responses to situations of threat and uncertainty – so it’s understandable that so many people are having a difficult time.

UNISON is always here to help its members. For those suffering with difficulties as diverse as bereavement, sickness, addiction, job loss, debt, domestic abuse or worries about putting food on the table, UNISON has stepped up over the past year to help as many people as possible access the support they need.

UNISON head of welfare Julie Grant says: “Good mental health is fundamental to our sense of wellbeing and our enjoyment of life.

“At its worst, poor mental health can have a devastating impact on the sufferer, their family, their ability to hold down a job and their financial wellbeing.

“Supporting and caring for those struggling with mental health difficulties is vitally important. Knowing where to go to access practical help and information is key.”

There for You

The welfare section of UNISON’s website features a directory of useful contacts, listing dozens of charities and helplines that can support members with a wide range of support needs – from gambling to stillbirth.

Julie continues: “Stress and anxiety can both lead to, or be the result of, financial difficulties.”

UNISON’s welfare branch ‘There for You’ provides emergency grants and support for any members in financial hardship. UNISON’s debtline can also provide advice for members who are struggling to manage their debt.

Branch welfare support

For UNISON members, the first point of contact for welfare support is branch welfare officers, who often have a good knowledge of local services that support members with specific needs.

David Steele, a UNISON branch welfare officer in Uddingston, Scotland says: “There’s so much support out there that isn’t advertised. As a welfare officer, I’m here to help. I’m not judging, and I don’t fill out any forms. The member is always in complete control of the conversation and if they want to stop the chat, then it stops.

“It’s confidential and no information gets stored anywhere, and usually I follow up the conversation with an email that links to loads of resources that they may find helpful.

“People struggle at work for a number of reasons. They might be going through a break-up that’s badly affecting them or have just had their hours cut and are worried about money. Sometimes I talk to people and it turns out the biggest thing is putting food on the table, so I make a referral to the Trussell Trust.

“I know there are so many people who need the help who might not be asking because of pride, but there is so much support out there. If you’re struggling, you’re not alone.”

Many UNISON members may work for employers that have an employee assistance programme – this is something worth exploring either through a line manager or branch welfare officer. Counselling through these programmes is usually provided over the phone for up to
six sessions with scope to extend further. These services are completely free and confidential.


UNISON learning offers courses to support members to manage their mental health, including a two-day mental health at work course.

The course covers the common signs of poor mental health in the workplace, and provides strategies for intervention and support.

UNISON head of learning and organising services Teresa Donegan says: “From the beginning of the pandemic, our members across public services faced enormous pressure and stress. Members working on the front line in health and social care throughout March and April were reporting dealing with situations they had never expected to see in their lifetimes.

“Those of us involved in learning and education at the national and regional level tried to do our bit to support members and one of the first things we did was to work with Cruse, the bereavement charity, to set up workshops for members in health and social care to support them deal with the trauma they were facing day in and day out at that time.”

Teresa continues: “Requests from branches and regions for resources and workshops to support members to cope with a range of mental health issues posed by the pandemic have been sky high. Working with our partners such as the Open University, WEA and the Skills Academy we were able to quickly offer a wide range of online workshops and resources, not only for members to develop new skills but to support them to cope with work and personal stress. We pulled together current and new resources and guides on mental health on our learning and organising website, and dozens of online courses free to members.”

UNISON’s online courses also include a stress-busting webinar, a staying strong course, mental health first aid and specific training on how to deal with panic attacks.

For UNISON members, support is out there. If you think you’d benefit from a listening ear or some specialist advice on a situation that’s troubling you, please visit www.unison.org.uk/thereforyou or speak directly to your branch welfare officer.