by Lindsey Appleby-Flynn, National Sector Lead for Health and Social Care at Connect2Care

The work of care home staff has always been invaluable. It is rewarding and challenging work that takes great effort from dedicated teams. However, over the last 18 months, that work has been made even more important.

Staff in care homes across the UK have made huge sacrifices and have worked incredibly hard to care for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. They have been hailed as heroes, but the country’s gratitude has done little to care for them, at a time where they need more support than ever before.

During the first wave of Covid-19, between 28th December 2019 and 12th June 2020, there were 93,475 deaths[1] of care home residents in England and Wales.

Between 9th March and 28th December 2020, 469 social care workers also lost their lives to coronavirus[2].

This has had a devastating effect on the staff who have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic.

The mental health impact of Covid-19

Since March last year, care home staff have been dealing with bereavement, severe and long-term stress, trauma, and social isolation; all recognised causes of mental health problems.

In July last year, a survey conducted by the Queen’s Nursing Institute[3] found that over half (56%) of care home nurses felt worse or much worse in terms of their physical and mental wellbeing than before the pandemic.

In a Health Foundation funded survey[4], carried out in the same month, 60% of social care workers said that the amount of time their jobs made them feel ‘depressed, gloomy or miserable’ had increased, while four out of five (81%) respondents highlighted that their job had left them feeling ‘tense, uneasy or worried’ more often since Covid-19 struck.

That was almost one year ago now, and we’re still in the same boat. Last month, a report from the Health and Social Care Committee[5] stated that burnout within the NHS and social care was at an ‘emergency’ level.

Social care workers are struggling.

We’ve seen the media reporting on the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by hospital staff, but this is happening in care homes too. Staff have had to make huge sacrifices – working increased hours, risking their own health, and even leaving their families to move in with residents during lockdown.

They are tackling ongoing stress. They are dealing with severe depression. They are facing guilt from self-isolation and being unable to care for dying residents they’ve grown to know and love. And these issues won’t just disappear as we start to come out of this pandemic; care home staff are facing ongoing mental health concerns, with some issues, like PTSD, yet to come to the forefront.

The safe, effective and compassionate care that residents across the country receive is only possible if staff are emotionally and psychologically healthy, and right now, they are emotionally and mentally exhausted.

Staff across the care sector need better support. Mental health and wellbeing must be catapulted to the top of the agenda.

Mental health first aid

One of the key things we need to see across care homes is an open-door culture on all things mental health, offering support to any employees who are struggling. An important aspect of this is providing the workforce with training in first aid for mental health.

In the same way organisations are required to have a physical first aider, mental health first aid is designed to raise awareness of mental health and tackle the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

The role of a Mental Health First Aider in the workplace is a vital, yet multi-faceted one. They act as a primary point of contact within an organisation for colleagues to turn to for mental health support, offering a listening ear and empathy with a non-judgemental approach.

Mental Health First Aiders are equipped with the practical skills and knowledge to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues, provide immediate support in times of crisis and signpost individuals to professional support services.

The benefits of first aid for mental health training

Part of the responsibilities of a Mental Health First Aider is to promote a positive workplace culture around mental health. There is still a great deal of ignorance, and even stigma, around mental health issues, and many people are unsure about how to react when faced with it.

By becoming informed and aware, Mental Health First Aiders can help to raise awareness of mental illnesses, challenge the stigmatising behaviours and attitudes attached to mental ill health, and encourage people to speak up about their own difficulties.

First aid for mental health training also offers more opportunities for early intervention to support the recovery of those at risk or developing mental health problems. It gives employees someone to talk to, and Mental Health First Aiders the confidence to step in, support and reassure colleagues who are struggling or in distress, and guide them towards further support.

Outside of support for individuals, providing employees with training in first aid for mental health offers beneficial returns on investment. It will come as no surprise, given the evidence above, that the coronavirus pandemic has caused a significant increase in mental health-related sickness absence. A report from Deloittte[6] found that on average, organisation-wide culture change and raising awareness of mental health can provide a return on investment of £5 for every £1 spent through a reduction in absence and presenteeism.

Promoting a mental health inclusive workplace generates an open and honest culture and a positive reputation, which can reduce staff turnover, increase productivity, boost team collaboration, and improve morale.

At Connect2Care, we’re experts in both adult care and mental health. As a result, we have developed a range of short online training courses providing key information and techniques to raise awareness of mental health, implement a positive mental health culture and provide and in-depth understanding of first aid for mental health.

The past year has shone a spotlight on the vital role that care workers play within our society. They are the biggest asset to our care system, and we can no longer allow them to suffer in silence, without the support they need to look after themselves and their residents.

It is now time to ensure that the needs of care workers are met in terms of mental health and wellbeing.

By educating yourself and your employees around the impact of Covid-19 on mental health, and the importance of mental health support in the workplace, you can create a culture in which staff feel safe and supported.

[1] Office for National Statistics

[2] Office for National Statistics

[3]The Queen’s Nursing Institute

[4] The University of Kent PSSRU

[5] Health and Social Care Committee

[6] Deloitte

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