How to manage mental health in a Pandemic
In a Pandemic, which has claimed over 36,000 lives in the UK, it is not just physical health that has been impacted upon, but mental wellbeing too. A recent paper published by The Centre for Mental Health provides a powerful illustration of what might be to come. It has forecast that “500,000 additional people” could experience mental health issues as a result of the Coronavirus Pandemic. It says that health and care workers working on the frontline are at “greater risk of developing mental health problems as a result of Covid-19”. [i]
The Institute for Public Policy and Research is equally concerned. A survey commissioned by the IPPR found that a fifth of medical and health professionals interviewed were thinking of leaving the sector due to the impact of Covid-19 on their mental health.
Many experienced clinicians such as Lesley Carter, Age UK’s Senior Health Influencing Manager, believe that staff working in the care sector are at particularly high risk of developing burnout, anxiety, depression, and more serious issues, such as PTSD. Why? “Staff in the care sector build relationships with people they look after over long periods of time – often years. Secondly they’re not used to seeing a large number of fatalities. Thirdly, they often don’t have the same clinical support and resources as their NHS counterparts.”
One of our key supporters, Quality Compliance Systems (QCS), the UK’s leading supplier of compliance management systems understands the pressures that faced by frontline carers more than most. Philippa Shirtcliffe, QCS’s Head of Care Quality says, “we know from conversations with Registered Managers that they’re concerned about the long term impact on the mental health and wellbeing of staff.”
As a result, QCS, which provides over 86,000 customers in the UK with the latest, procedures and evidenced-based best practice, has begun providing a range of tools to support managers and staff to look after their wellbeing.
In doing so, QCS has referenced guidance from several organisations – both inside and outside of the social care sector – and has created a mental health awareness factsheet, which you can access here.
Perhaps the most important findings drawn from several organisations – which included Age UK, the National Care Forum, the Social Care Institute of Excellence, the British Psychological Society (BPS) and TRICRES – centre on the importance of strong leadership and instilling a ‘safe’ culture within a service.
Philippa Shirtcliffe says, “The BPS and others cited the importance of “accessible, visible and proactive leadership”. For Registered Managers that means being able to recognise the first signs of poor mental health, both in their staff and in themselves. The indicators aren’t always obvious. They’re often as subtle and they are nuanced. Our partners in this project consistently emphasised the fact that intervention, perseverance and patience, are key to unlocking the door to mental health issues, while the ability to listen and to offer comfort and support were seen as essential attributes.”
All great insight, which the CWC wholeheartedly agrees with. We’d like to finish this article, however, by looking at some of the triggers that lead to anxiety and depression. Financial hardship is a key cause of worry and it is affecting many care worker’s mental health in this crisis. The government may have provided a financial safety net for many, but thousands of the UK’s lowest paid frontline carer workers continue to fall through the gaps. Take those workers, for example, who cannot go to work because they are shielding or self-isolating in their homes.
While nobody knows how the long the Pandemic will last, the epidemic has demonstrated is that financial hardship and mental wellbeing are inextricably linked.
During the crisis, thanks to our many supporters, The CWC has been able to provide some of those workers with financial assistance. But the need is unprecedented and our grants can only stretch so far. In the last eight weeks, for instance, we’ve provided more grants than we did during the whole of last year. In that time, we’ve also signposted hundreds of care workers to services and charities that can help them with mental health issues.
So what’s the big picture that we all need to be focused on in the future? One thing’s for sure – in the coming weeks and months, if we are to avert a mental health catastrophe in the social care system, then the government must address both issues simultaneously – and quickly.
[i] Centre for Mental Health
Covid-19 and the nation’s mental health
Forecasting needs and risks in the UK: May 2020
Dr Graham Durcan, Nick O’Shea and Louis Allwood