Fórsa survey reveals that half of Ireland’s health workers have experienced mental health issues
Almost half of Ireland’s health workers have experienced mental health difficulties, and over a quarter are currently experiencing a mental health issue, according to a new survey published by Fórsa in advance of its Health and Welfare Division biennial conference, which opens in Sligo later today (Wednesday).
The finding that half our members have experienced mental health issues is a wake-up call.
A higher proportion (55%) of workers aged under 35 said they had experienced a mental health issue in the past, while 30% of this age group said they were currently experiencing a problem.
Over 60% of the 1,600-plus health workers who responded to the survey said they would be uncomfortable discussing a mental health issue with their line manager, with over a third (37%) saying they would be “very uncomfortable doing so.
Just over 80% said their employer was doing too little to promote mental health awareness, and only 7% said they were very well supported at work while experiencing mental health difficulties. Some 38% said they were either very or moderately unsupported.
But, on a positive note, over two-thirds said they would be comfortable initiating a conversation with a colleague they knew was experiencing a mental health issue. Just over a fifth said they would be very or moderately uncomfortable doing so.
A large number of respondents said the union should address the stigma around mental illness in the workplace and elsewhere. They also expressed concern that mental health issues could have a negative impact on their career prospects.
Just over 80% said their employer was doing too little to promote mental health awareness, and only 7% said they were very well supported at work while experiencing mental health difficulties.
Staff shortages and working time were among the issues linked to workplace mental health difficulties in the survey responses. The most common answers to an open-ended question about the actions needed to tackle the issue also included encouraging discussion, agreeing policies with employers, providing information and training to members, featuring mental health in campaigns, strengthening bullying policies and procedures, and promoting mental health initiatives.
Speaking ahead of the conference today (Wednesday) the Chair of Fórsa’s health division, Martin Walsh, said the union would redouble its efforts to address the stigma that surrounds mental illness in the workplace and elsewhere.
Speaking ahead of the conference the Chair of Fórsa’s health division, Martin Walsh, said the union would redouble its efforts to address the stigma that surrounds mental illness in the workplace and elsewhere.
“For too long, the stigma that surrounds mental illness has added to the misery of those who suffer, and stood as a barrier between them and a healthy and happy life. If surveys were telling us that half our workforce was experiencing influenza, chronic back pain, or any other physical ailment, I have no doubt that there would be immediate and urgent action from employers and government.
“We’ve come a long way since mental illness was literally hidden from view in institutions, and I’m encouraged that a large majority of workers would be comfortable discussing the issue with a colleague experiencing problems. But the stigma that surrounds mental health still stands in the way of a determined effort to deal with this scourge on society,” he said.
In response to the survey results, Fórsa official Catherine Keogh said the union was ready to engage with health service management to strengthen policies and procedures to promote good mental health in the workplace, and to deal supportively with mental illness.
“The finding that half our members have experienced mental health issues is a wake-up call. Our survey clearly shows that health workers are supportive of colleagues in difficulty, but that management isn’t doing enough either to raise awareness or help staff who experience mental health problems. We are determined to find ways to promote a more proactive and positive response in the Irish health service,” she said.
Our survey clearly shows that health workers are supportive of colleagues in difficulty, but that management isn’t doing enough either to raise awareness or help staff who experience mental health problems.
The conference will debate seven motions on mental health and related issues tomorrow afternoon (Thursday). The union’s Health and Welfare Division executive has tabled motions [Motions 127 and 128] that pledge to engage with health service management to remove mental illness stigma and “create an environment of meaningful support, including structures and assistance programmes, for those members who experience mental health issues.”
Other conference motions call for improvements to occupational health services, a better response to the negative effects of social media abuse, and action to tackle depression in the workplace. An executive motion will also call for more investment in HSE and other mental health services to the public (Motion 132).
The online survey was conducted using Fórsa’s members’ health e-bulletin between 3rd and 30th April 2019. Some 84% of respondents were women, which broadly reflects the union’s membership in the health sector. Fórsa represents some 30,000 staff in a variety of health settings. They include health and social care professionals, clerical and administrative staff, technical grades, and others.