People who work in mental health under strain

Both service users and mental health workers described an under-resourced, over-worked and stressed mental health workforce. This has resulted in negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of people working within the system as well as on the service they are able to provide to people seeking their support.

“Staffing is DANGEROUSLY flawed. We are constantly being asked to work the double shift, come in on our days off, we can not even utilize our annual leave to recuperate and rest because of staff shortages. These shortages have been identified YEARS ago!  Yet the service is stretched, inadequate and waiting for the inevitable to occur, another major incident.”

People working in mental health services also described how underfunding and other problems in the system make it very hard to deliver quality services and care, which in turn causes them to feel deeply dissatisfied, and in some cases overwhelmed.

“I have worked in community mental health services for 5 years. I love my job so much and get to support the most amazing and resilient people. However with each week I grow increasingly frustrated. The DHB continues to make changes with a significant lack of funding and true understanding of what our community needs. From entry point to services where a person may see up to three doctors and several mental health professionals before they are allocated a regular care team, an inpatient unit that requires a person to be at their very worst point and of some risk to themselves or others before an admission is even considered and then spits them out too soon, residential services I would never send a family member to, and community clinicians with caseloads of 40 just trying to get through each day. I go home feeling I have let someone and their family down, because there is not enough of me to go around or the system has simply failed yet again. Despite all of this I see wonderful individuals give it their best and all each day to support others to recover. They remain passionate despite unmanageable workloads. I have seen tears from teammates before who  at times are just overwhelmed.”

A lack of resources, and the resulting overwork and stress is also having a negative impact on the mental and physical health and wellbeing of people working in the mental health system.

“I’m a former mental health administrator. One month out from my eight-year anniversary in the role, I had to resign due to depression; my job was identified as my main stressor. I know of a few mental health clinicians who have also had to leave the work because of their own mental health issues – mainly from inpatient services.”

Several stories reported that experienced people were leaving their jobs in mental health services because of stress, and a frustration at being unable to do a good job.

“Out of an experienced Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team, only two staff are remaining. The rest have left or are in the process of leaving, because of the deplorable way it has all been managed. The service is losing years of experience. I do not like working in a service where people have to wait hours to be seen.”

People who have used mental health services also made a point of recognising the dedicated and hardworking people who persist despite the challenges of underfunding and other systemic problems:

“I’m grateful for the good people in the broken system, who talk to me in caring voices till their fifteen minutes are up.”

“The people I have worked with in mental health services have invariably been amazing. I got on with some of them better than others, but they were all fantastic, thoughtful and caring people.”

Overall, the stories submitted by people working in mental health services paint a picture of people who though still passionate about their work and committed to doing better for the people who they are there to serve, are feeling increasingly helpless and desperate for change.

“We get a lot criticism and complaints but it is often out of our control. The service has crumbled, and with the current restructure, local services are in absolute crisis. Management are not listening. Whenever I hear of a special incident or sudden death , I ask myself why I continue to do this job. However it is because of my passion for the work – I have still got a bit of fight or hope that management may start listening. I fully support the need for a national inquiry into mental health services.”