Opinion Wellbeing

Care Workers’ in Crisis: Who Cares for those Who Care?

Karolina Gerlich, CEO, The Care Workers Charity

Karolina Gerlich, CEO of The Care Workers’ Charity on the crisis of wellbeing in the social care workforce, and how the Charity’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Support is helping address it.

As those within the sector well know, social care is the backbone of our society. Care and support workers often battle a complex array of challenges- and our research has highlighted mental ill health as an overwhelming concern (The Beating Heart of Care, 2019, The Care Workers’ Charity). We found that even prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, the social care sector had the highest rates of stress, depression and anxiety amongst its workforce.

• 42% of care workers were experiencing stress ‘often’ or ‘most of the time’
• 51% of care workers were considering leaving their role because of the effect of the job on their mental health
• 72% had experienced bereavement directly as a result of their work
• concerns about personal finances due to low income, and perceptions of not having enough time to ‘do the job well’ were highlighted as having a cumulative negative effect on mental wellbeing.

The devastating onset of Covid-19 meant that social care workers across the country have, and continue to be, put under extreme pressure on the frontline of the pandemic. They are struggling under the weight of crippling anxiety, stress, and depression, and are coping with traumatic illness and bereavement to a scale never seen before. They are terrified at the prospect of inadvertently passing on the virus either at their place of work or at home, or falling ill themselves. A recent GMB survey found 75% of care workers in England have experienced worsened mental health as a result of their work during the pandemic; happiness levels have dropped by 12%, and self-reported anxiety has risen by 6% (2021).

“…COVID19 which left me feeling terribly weak and reminded me of my own mortality. I returned to work feeling terrified of what I was going to face. I experienced sleepless nights and panic attacks, worried if I was going to bring this terrible virus home to my family.”
Anon, CWC Grant Applicant

In spite of the trauma they have, and continue to experience, many are not eligible for bespoke therapy- and those that are, are unable to afford its cost (IPPR 2020). The social care sector does not have a coherent approach to wellbeing, and for those care workers who need help- access to support can be somewhat of a lottery. Moreover, where there is access, care workers find it hard to ask for help- particularly from EAP’s which they often associate with their employer and workplace.

To bridge this gap, and to address the desire to ‘outside support’ The Care Workers’ Charity are providing 10 hours of free Mental Health Support provided by a qualified therapist, through our partner Red Umbrella. This support is available to anyone currently working in a paid role in the UK social care sector and is involved in the support of adult, elderly or disability care.

Care workers spend their lives putting others first, but we need to make sure that they themselves are supported. Whilst steps such as ours go some way to doing this, we must ensure that the wellbeing of care workers remains an enduring priority- and not just a topical presence. As a sector, it is our duty to advocate for increased wellbeing support structures, alongside sweeping changes to wages and working conditions- which will help alleviate the mental burden on our workforce.

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