Mental Health Awareness Week 2021

  • 13 May 2021

The NUJ Disabled Members’ Council and Health and Safety Committee have raised concerns about the increase in reports of members experiencing mental distress at work. 

Mental Health Awareness Week

Workplace Health and Safety representatives have reported that mental health is the main issue of concern, with many members experiencing isolation, overwhelming workloads and stress caused by uncertainty and change in the workplace.

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 is 'nature', encouraging people to connect with nature to boost their wellbeing. However, the NUJ has major concerns about employers who shirk their duties by individualising responsibility for mental health.

The union holds regular online briefings for health and safety reps to monitor issues and advise on collective action to support members and work with employers to address health and safety and wider equality issues.

We encourage branches to promote the role of welfare officers as a point of call for members who need advice and signposting. Members can also contact chapel reps or officials for advice or the membership department to discuss reducing their subs if they are facing financial hardship.

Natasha Hirst, chair of the NUJ Equalities Council said:

"Employers must recognise that high workloads, redundancies, office closures and other changes to the working environment are a significant cause of mental distress. Many members have been working at a pace that is unsustainable. Responsibility for the consequences of poor management and the lack of consideration for staff welfare lies squarely with employers, not individual workers."

Ann Galpin, chair of the NUJ Disabled Members' Council said:

"Staff must be fully involved in discussions on changes to how they work. Working from home long-term is not suitable or safe for everyone and alternatives should be provided to accommodate individual circumstances. Issues such as isolation and anxiety must be proactively addressed by employers.
"Members experiencing Long Covid will undoubtedly face mental distress and need flexibility and support to stay in work without compromising their physical and mental health. Employers already deal poorly with energy limiting conditions including stamina, breathing and fatigue issues (experienced by one in three disabled people of working age). We fear members with Long Covid will struggle similarly to access the support they need to stay in work.
"Employers must fully embrace how important is it to put proper reasonable adjustments in place to ensure they fulfil their duty of care and provide safe working environments in these circumstances."

Adam Christie, chair of the Health and Safety Committee said:

"The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has identified six particular work-related stressors – demands, control, support, relationships, roles and change – that affect mental health.
"In resources for managers, particularly the Preventing Workplace Stress Talking Toolkit, the HSE says people should feel organisations engage with them frequently during change, that they get timely information and understand why change is happening, that they are consulted and allowed to influence proposals, they are aware of the impact jobs and trained to support such changes.
" Huge changes are taking place now, impacting every one of the HSE's six stressors, so it's no wonder that people are stressed, even managers. Free advice from the HSE is available online – and the Talking Toolkit is a good start.
"Heath, safety and welfare are crucial to us all, everywhere and all the time. The process of assessing risks, instigating reasonable precautions, followed by regular inspections, logging incidents and then regularly reviewing everything not only helps to lessen work-related stress and consequent mental distress but it makes good business sense too, because it should reduce sickness absence and the many, heavy, hidden extra costs of people of trying to work when they're not at their best.
"Unions, such as the NUJ, are crucial in reminding employers of their legal obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and working with them to ensure a holistic approach to minimising work-related stress and its associated mental health problems. Being in a union is more important now in protecting every aspect of health than ever."

Resources and training

  • The next health and safety reps briefing will be on Tuesday 8 June at 12 noon. Please contact [email protected] to attend or to find out more on training to become a Health and Safety rep.
  • NUJ extra has provided further funding for members experiencing financial hardship.
  • Members who are on a low income may be eligible for reduced rate membership subscriptions and can find out more by emailing [email protected]
  • NUJ resources on mental health
  • The Health and Safety Executive Toolkit on Stress at Work on page 17 highlights questions that can be asked about change and the impact on mental health.
  • Have you had, or do you have, Long Covid? If so please complete this TUC survey.

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