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NHS managers urged to tackle mental health stigma and counter pressure of Covid-19 ‘hero narrative’

by Jess Hacker
5 February 2021

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Managers have been encouraged to create wellness plans and visible spaces to talk about mental health, as part of BMA and MIND guidance to combat stigma, which the two organisations said has been ‘compounded’ by the Covid-19 ‘hero narrative’.

The toolkit, published by MIND today (5 February) and funded by the BMA, is part of a series of three resources to be released over the next two months, illustrating how NHS managers and leaders can prioritise staff mental health.

The document said that the ‘hero narrative’ – which was intended to communicate the value of health care professionals – may have ‘unintentionally added to the pressure individuals have felt to rise to the Covid-19 challenge’, with staff ‘continually going above and beyond their duty of care’.

It added: ‘As NHS leaders, you play an essential role in reducing mental health stigma and creating cultures where reaching out for support is encouraged and welcomed.’

One of the approaches recommended by the guidance is for managers to create ‘visible places’ where information on mental health and mental health problems is readily available.

It said that this could include physical spaces, like bulletin boards or break rooms, or digital spaces like the staff intranet, with information or ‘signposting on the homepage for everybody to see’.

Helping staff at their ‘absolute limit’

The guidance also suggested that managers encourage their team to draw up wellness action plans to help staff identify what keeps them well in the workplace, and what support they might expect from their line manager.

It said: ‘By encouraging teams to draw up a wellness action plan, managers give ownership of the practical steps needed for staff to help stay well at work or manage a mental health problem.’

Managers should also carry out regular mental health audits, the document added, recommending they build a resilient team to help staff recover quickly and safely.

Additionally, the report provided several alternatives to stigmatising language relating to mental health, and guidelines for talking about suicide.

These included refraining from calling someone ‘mentally ill’ or a ‘sufferer’, and saying someone has been ‘discharged’ from a hospital instead of ‘released’.

‘Unprecedented pressure’

Andrew Molodynski, mental health policy lead at the BMA, said:  ‘The relentless demands of the pandemic have taken a heavy toll on the mental health and well-being of the NHS workforce over the last year as many have been stretched to their absolute limit.

‘With such sustained levels of unprecedented pressure, it is absolutely crucial that the NHS can adapt to meet the growing mental health needs of an increasingly exhausted and fragile workforce.’

A BMA study conducted in May 2020 found that 45% of doctors were suffering from depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions worsened by Covid-19.

Meanwhile, a second study published last month found that almost half said their condition had worsened since the start of the pandemic.

Last June, the BMA also backed the Labour Party’s call for a mental health support package to provide ‘fast-tracked help and advice’ to NHS staff battling the pandemic.