World Mental Health Day is on 10 October. PCS urges all branches to hold workplace events to promote good mental health.
Stress, depression or anxiety are now the greatest cause of work absence in the UK according to the Health and Safety Executive: an average of 24 days a year, compared to 9 days on average for ‘injuries’, 18 days for musculoskeletal disorders, or 20 days for other ill-health cases.
The government revealed in January 2018 that 26% of all sickness absence in the civil service was due to mental health conditions.
PCS offers one or two day reps’ courses on mental health awareness – contact your regional office to find out upcoming dates.
PCS reps report that an increasing number of members’ cases they support are for mental-health-related work absence. Mental health awareness training is important for union reps – understanding the ‘signs’ and symptoms of stress that can trigger mental health conditions, gaining some knowledge about protections that apply, and learning about sources of help to sign-post members toward are vital elements of the rep’s toolbox.
As a union, we also need to take a proactive, campaigning approach. The hard work of union reps in supporting individual members is valued and important, but we don’t want just a ‘sticking plaster’. As Janine Booth said in her blog, “we need to move beyond simply fostering awareness, to fighting back.”
Mental health problems are escalating in the workforce for systemic reasons - bullying, heavy workloads and a long-hours, presentism culture. Workers are much more likely to feel anxious or depressed in work if they feel isolated, under-valued and unsupported, where they feel under pressure to meet targets and maintain performance, regardless of their welfare.
Workplaces where the union is strong, visible and assertive, by contrast, offer the possibility of a collective feeling of mutual support.
If members are unhappy because they feel pressure to work over their contracted hours, if they are struggling to pay bills because of low pay, leaving them feeling desperate that they cannot cope, if their manager is also under pressure and bullying staff, or the office is under threat of closure – all of these issues impact on our mental health. Organising around core trade union issues, building union strength to fight for improved conditions must be explicitly part of fighting for better mental health in PCS.
What you can do
- Seek out PCS training for reps and organise a PCS lunchtime session on or near 10 0ctober. Devise a branch strategy for how the union locally can raise issues collectively with the employer
- Elect a PCS equality rep who can lead on mental health issues for your branch and link with the PCS disabled members’ forum and other equality networks
- Obtain resources from PCS, TUC and other helpful trade union websites.
- Sign up for a mental health awareness course in your region, with a view to running further workshops in your branch for members. There are courses starting in Manchester and Glasgow on 31 October.
- Make the issues more visible in your workplace by displaying leaflets and posters.