Mental health staff put low morale down to workload and role changes

The government’s plans to introduce approved mental health professionals have been criticised after a poll found high levels of stress and emotional exhaustion among mental health social workers.

Excessive job demands and unhappiness about their place in modern services were contributing to poor job satisfaction among mental health social workers, the British Journal of Psychiatry survey found.

The workers put in an average of 43 hours per week, six hours more than they were contracted to do, states the study of 237 professionals.

And those who had approved social worker status had higher levels of job dissatisfaction. Social workers need about 60 days of training to achieve approved status.

British Association of Social Workers director Ian Johnston said he was not surprised by the findings, given proposals in the draft Mental Health Bill to replace approved social workers with approved mental health professionals.

Under the plans, mental health staff such as nurses and occupational therapists would be able to take on the new role, prompting criticism it will lose its social care focus.
Johnston said: “It’s almost inevitable that the uncertainty created by the ill-considered legislation doesn’t help matters.”

Dave Sheppard, who trains social workers in mental health law, agreed that morale had been hit by the decision to move to the new role, describing it as a “kick in the teeth” for approved social workers.

He said: “They’ve done a superb job over the past 20 years and they just haven’t been recognised.”

Sheppard said there were concerns among staff that the new professionals would not be trained to the same level.

The study notes that although the profession makes a major contribution to community mental health teams, it is a scarce and declining resource in contrast to other countries, such as the US, where social workers are the major professional group in mental health services.

Meanwhile, a second study in the journal found specialist early psychosis interventions could be more effective than standard care.

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