Government spends $20m on stressed mental health workers

The amount of sick leave being taken by senior medical staff at the Canterbury District Health Board is an indication of the pressure they're under. Photo / NZPA
The amount of sick leave being taken by senior medical staff at the Canterbury District Health Board is an indication of the pressure they're under. Photo / NZPA

Stressed-out mental health workers in Christchurch are expected to benefit from a $20 million government cash injection.

The money is aimed at tackling the region's mental health woes, with pressure on the Government in recent months to help assist with the level of demand.

Board chairman Murray Cleverley said a slice of the funding will be used to involve workers in their own well-being programme. By looking after them, staff will be in a better position to look after Canterbury residents.

With the increasing workload of Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) staff, the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists says it's no wonder more are seeking counselling.

Figures obtained by Newstalk ZB under the Official Information Act show counselling sessions attended by CDHB staff have more than doubled since 2010, costing $1.5 million.

Association deputy director Angela Belich said many staff are feeling overwhelmed: They're living in a community that's still rebuilding, with stressed families and having to contend with added pressure at work.

CDHB staff are in uncharted territory and it is impossible to say when that pressure may begin to ease, she said. The amount of sick leave being taken by senior medical staff at the Canterbury District Health Board is an indication of the pressure they're under.

Figures obtained by Newstalk ZB under the Official Information Act show sick leave taken across the DHB has increased by 35 per cent since the earthquakes. When figures for senior medical staff alone are looked at, that increase rises to 120 per cent.

Belich said that is uncharacteristic for people in those positions. They're typically reluctant to take leave because of the impact on their patients. She hopes an increase in staff as part of the Government's mental health package will help ease the workload on senior doctors.

A well-being expert thinks Canterbury District Health Board staff may be worn down by adrenaline overload.

Workplace well-being director Hannah Airey said that with anxiety around the earthquakes and anxiety at work, staff can be constantly on edge. On a physiological level, that wears the body down and affects immunity.

She says the CDHB's decision to appoint a well-being, health and safety manager shows staff welfare is a priority, and says that should be applauded.

- Newstalk ZB

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