Focus on mental health

Union support for mental health workers gets a boost.

Members of the PSA Mental Health Committee

Members of the PSA Mental Health Committee

Andy Colwell remembers his first really challenging case when he started work in a community mental health centre.

“I was working with a client who became acutely unwell. His family, who he was living with, were increasingly concerned for his and their well-being. He became very threatening and aggressive towards me, and ended up requiring police support to be admitted to an acute inpatient unit.

“My colleagues were very supportive, but were constrained in how much they could help me because of their own heavy workloads. The limited support and guidance I received on that first case illustrates the lack of resource for the mental health sector, a theme that continues to this day.”

Lack of resources for mental health is one the reasons Andy became involved with the PSA’s Mental Health Committee, a group that has been set up  to advocate for the needs of mental health workers in DHBs, community services and the public service.

“Health and safety is a big issue,” says Andy. “For example, there’s currently a drive to reduce restraint and seclusion, which the PSA supports. However, it’s not being managed well in some DHBs, which increases potential risks for both clients and staff.”

Staff turnover is another issue. “People are leaving because they’re not being supported,” says Andy. “And to be fair, members on the ground sometimes feel there is more the union can do.”

The Mental Health Committee hopes to concentrate on these type of issues while also supporting efforts to increase union membership. “We want to support people to become delegates and increase the numbers of collective agreements in the sector so workers get better pay and conditions.”

Andy says the work in mental health is relentless, but rewarding. “It’s not just helping people, it’s about empowering them. We make a difference, and it’s a privilege to see people change their lives.”