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Councils and NIHE roll out new action plan for improving mental health in the workplace

MEABC Chief Executive, Anne Donaghy with guests at today's launch of a new Local Government Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy & Action Plan for improving mental health among local council and NIHE employees today

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council Chief Executive, Anne Donaghy, says local councils and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive will do all they can to 'shatter the stigma' around mental health issues, as she officially launched a new Local Government Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy & Action Plan for improving mental health in the workforce earlier today.

Ms Donaghy chairs the SOLACE (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives) Local Government Health and Wellbeing Group, supported by LGSC (Local Government Staff Commission), which provides human resources and development advice to district councils and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE).

It is hoped that by upskilling, awareness raising and challenging the stigma that surrounds mental ill health, the overall wellbeing of staff will improve across the sector.

The impact of poor mental health in places of employment was the focus of a 2018 Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) study, which found it was the most common cause of long-term sickness absence in workplaces across the UK.

Councils and the NIHE have Health and Wellbeing plans and initiatives in place to support their employees, and this has been even more important during the recent period of lockdown, with many employees working from home for the first time, while juggling childcare and/or home schooling, or being redeployed into new or different roles.

The Local Government Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy & Action Plan was launched in The Braid in Ballymena this afternoon, and the event was particularly significant as it marked World Suicide Prevention Day 2020.

Geraldine McGahey, Chief Commissioner with the Equality Commission NI, Mark O’Donnell, Deputy Secretary for Housing, Urban Regeneration and Local Government, Department for Communities, and Helen Hall, Director of Corporate Services, Local Government Staff Commission, were guest speakers at the launch. Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride, welcomed the launch of the strategy and congratulated Anne Donaghy for bringing the sector together to develop the action plan.

"The Local Government Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy & Action Plan is in line with the recent annual report of Positive Mental Health and Wellbeing, and helping to break the stigma by creating change in people's attitudes to mental health", Dr McBride said.

"The vision for local government is to work together, where staff feel safe to speak openly about mental health, including any personal experiences.

"The message around the ASK logo is very important: that staff feel Accepted, Supported, and that their Knowledge around mental health is increased. I wish the sector every success with the strategy."

Michael Byrne, Founder and Managing Director of LETs (Lived Experience Trauma Support Ltd), spoke about his own experiences with emotional ill health.

Michael has survived many traumatic events in his life. As a child, he suffered abuse and witnessed the violent murder of his father, while he was one of only a small number of survivors when a helicopter crashed into The Clutha pub in Glasgow in 2013.

He has established LETs with the aim of improving mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, and recently addressed the Scottish Parliament as a keynote speaker.

Anne Donaghy said: “The impact of poor mental health has been well documented in Northern Ireland, and it is an issue which can affect anyone from any walk of life.

“The Covid-19 crisis has thrown mental health into the spotlight once again, as many thousands of people find themselves having to juggle the demands of working from home with trying to educate their children, all while facing the uncertainties and stresses that this pandemic has created for everyone.

“I am proud to launch the Local Government Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy & Action Plan 2020-2023, which has been widely consulted upon and informed by best practice in order to provide a way forward in creating workplaces which are encouraging and understanding of anyone who finds themselves needing help.

“We want to be able to reinforce the key message of this strategy, which is ASK – and that simply means, staff know it is OK to Ask for help and feel Accepted; employees will have Support in getting that help; and managers will have the Knowledge they need to provide for their staff.”

Ms Donaghy urged anyone who needs information and advice for themselves or someone they know, to download the Here2Help app, which was developed in the Mid and East Antrim Borough Council area but has now reaching people as far away as Canada, the USA and China.

The app has been downloaded almost 6,000 times, and is free from app stores. Created by Noel McKee, and developed by East Antrim Counselling and Ownies Bar, the app offers a range of services and support available to anyone in crisis.