The pressure of coronavirus on the nation’s mental health and wellbeing has been much discussed in the media. Recently, it has been referred to as the ‘second pandemic’, and while some may think this a sensationalised statement, there is no doubt the effects of COVID-19 on mental health are very real, especially for the many care workers on the front line of the virus.
In 2019, research by the Care Workers’ Charity showed that mental ill health was widely experienced by those in the social care sector, with 42% of care workers surveyed experiencing ‘regular’ stress and 27% experiencing anxiety ‘often’ or ‘most of the time’ as a result of their work. Figures from the same year showed that a shocking 79% felt they were ‘close to burnout’.
COVID-19 has meant that care and support workers now not only feel the pressure and stress that comes with their professional duty, but also face anxiety around PPE shortages and the risk of fatal infection to themselves, the people in their care, and their families.
Impacts reported by frontline care staff include increased levels of tiredness, insomnia, stress, anxiety and depression. Experiences of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are also predicted to increase, as staff are affected by higher incidences of sudden deaths, and feel intense guilt from what they may see as being poorly equipped to deal with the impact of the pandemic.
Feedback paints a bleak picture of the state of mental health amongst social care workers in the current crisis; with one in two health and social care workers reporting a decline in their mental health, and critically a further one in five saying that COVID-19 has made them more likely to leave the profession.
Even prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, the social care sector had high rates of stress, depression and anxiety amongst its workforce. With the catastrophic impact of COVID-19 in worsening mental health, it is crucial that those who are struggling are supported properly.
Care fit for carers, a report published in April this year, stressed that despite social care workers experiencing stress, anxiety, bereavement and trauma as a result of COVID-19, many are not eligible for bespoke therapy, and those that are are unable to afford the costs. As a result, they are forced to cope alone. At the front line of an unprecedented crisis, surely they deserve better?
Providing funding to increase access to mental health support for our caring workforce would not only improve individual wellbeing and resilience, but – long term – could go some way to increasing staff retention rates, whilst reducing workforce shortages as well as leaves of absence and sickness related to mental ill health.
There is then, a critical need for funding to support staff to access help. This must be provided both to buffer against the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide continued support to social care workers beyond the pandemic’s peak.
Although the topic of mental wellbeing is currently a talking point within the sector, this has not always been the case. Indeed, mental health support for care sector workers has often been conspicuous by its absence. In 2018, Paul Hayes wrote of his experience as a mental health and housing support worker that the support so often needed ‘is not regularly embedded in our workplaces’. It appears that little has changed, with four in every five care workers reporting that they had not been offered mental health support by their employer, despite the detrimental impact that COVID-19 has had on their mental health.
Without clear and visible support frameworks for addressing mental ill health, stigma surrounding accessing support persists, preventing those who are struggling from seeking help. We have a duty to care for those who care; the pandemic has provided us with a chance to change how the mental wellbeing of care and support workers is addressed – we must take it.
This is why The Care Workers’ Charity is introducing Mental Health Grants for people working in the social care sector. The charity will offer sessions of therapy or counselling from licensed professionals tailored to the needs of the individual. We are now appealing for support and donations to this fund to help us ensure care workers receive the right type of guidance and support to help them through this dark period.
Karolina Gerlich is Executive Director of The Care Workers’ Charity. Donations to the Mental Health Grants fund can be made at https://thecareworkerscharity.enthuse.com/cf/mental-health-appeal
NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde. November 2012. A Health Profile of the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Workforce.
The Care Workers’ Charity (CWC). Caseby, A and Bland,D . November 2019. The Beating Heart of Care: Supporting Care Workers Better.
National Association of Care and Support Workers’ (NACAS). September 2019. The Wellbeing of Professional Care Workers’.
Inchausti et al. April 2020. Psychological Intervention and COVID-19: What We Know So Far, and What We Can Do.
Sanders, R. May 2020. ESSS Outline. Covid-19: Stress, Anxiety, and Social Care Worker’s Mental Health.
Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). Thomas, C and Quilter-Pinner, H. April 2020. Care Fit for Carers.
Amnesty International. July 2020. Failures to Protect Health and Essential Workers During the Covid-19 Pandemic.
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Hayes, P. The Guardian. February 2018. Care Workers Need Support to Handle Emotional Impact of our Jobs.