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Public sector workers more likely to ‘feel anxious’ or report poor mental health

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Public sector staff are more likely to experience mental health problems than their colleagues in the private sector, but have less access to workplace support, according to a leading charity.

Mind surveyed over 12,000 employees across both sectors, finding a higher prevalence of mental health problems in the public sector, as well as a lack of support available when people did speak up.

“It’s vital that when people do speak out they get the right help and support at the right time”

Paul Farmer

It found that public sector workers were over a third more likely to say their mental health was poor than their peers in the private sector – 15% versus 9%.

They were far more likely to say they have felt anxious at work on several occasions over the last month – 53% compared to 43%.

The impact on the public sector was also significant, indicated the survey.

Public sector respondents said that, on average, they had taken nearly three days off sick in the last year because of mental health, compared to just under one day for those in the private sector.

Almost half of public sector workers have had time off because of their mental health, compared with less than a third of the private sector workforce, the survey suggested.

Meanwhile, the Mind research found that that public sector was more aware of mental health problems but seemed less prepared to help people deal with them.

The results showed that public sector workers were more likely to disclose that they had a mental health problem, including if they took time off because of it and were more likely to report that their workplace culture made it possible for people to speak openly about their mental health.

“It is clear that workplace wellbeing needs to be a priority throughout the public sector”

Paul Farmer

Of those with a mental health problem, 90% of public sector staff disclosed it to their employer, compared with 80% in the private sector.

When taking time off for mental health reasons, 69% of public sector workers were honest about the reason for needing time off, compared with 59% of private sector staff.

In addition, 38% of public sector employees said the workplace cultured allowed staff to be open about mental health problems, compared with 29% in the private sector.

However, when public sector employees “do open up, support isn’t always forthcoming”, warned the charity.

Only 49% of people said they felt supported when they disclosed mental health problems, compared with 61% in the private sector.

Mind said it was calling on the next government to make mental health in the workplace a “key priority”.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “A vital part of changing the lives of people with mental health problems is to tackle the culture of fear and silence in the workplace that stops people opening up about what they are experiencing.

Paul Farmer Chief Executive Mind

Paul Farmer Chief Executive Mind

Paul Farmer

“This data shows that the public sector in particular is making progress here,” he said. “But it’s also vital that when people do speak out they get the right help and support at the right time.

“It’s clear there is still a long way to go in both the public and private sector to address the gap between people asking for support and actually getting what they need,” he said.

“By promoting wellbeing for all staff, tackling the causes of work-related mental health problems and supporting staff who are experiencing mental health problems, organisations can help keep people at work and create mentally healthy workplaces,” noted Mr Farmer.

He highlighted that the government had funded Mind to provide support for emergency services staff but it was “clear that workplace wellbeing needs to be a priority throughout the public sector”.

The Blue Light programme has provided mental health support for emergency services staff and volunteers from police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue services across England since April 2015. Additional funding has meant that the services can now be rolled out across Wales.

Source: Online survey of 15,022 employees during 2017, of which 5,746 worked in the public sector and 7,191 worked in the private sector. The remainder work in the third sector.

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