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Staff sickness due to stress, anxiety and depression at Mid Suffolk and Babergh councils doubles

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Staff sickness due to stress, anxiety and depression at two Suffolk councils has more than doubled in just one year, new figures reveal.

Data for Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils revealed that for the 2018/19 financial year mental health was the number one reason for sickness, accounting for 1,931 lost days.

It marks an increase of more than double the 933 days recorded in 2017/18 and more than five times the 375 in 2015/16.

Stock image of man with head in hands. Depression, suicide, unhappiness,sad (13928070)
Stock image of man with head in hands. Depression, suicide, unhappiness,sad (13928070)

Arthur Charvonia, chief executive of the two councils, said figures so far for this year indicated the situation had improved, but acknowledged any investment needed in staff wellbeing would be looked at.

“We encourage a workplace culture where our people can be open about mental health issues and receive the support they need as a result – as demonstrated by the fact both our mental health-related sickness and general sickness levels are now below the local government average,” he said.

“In common with local authorities across the country, our people are under daily pressure to meet our residents’ needs in the face of unprecedented financial challenges for local government.

“Over the last two years, we’ve also delivered well-documented major change, including our move to Endeavour House.

“However, a spike in mental health related issues of 16 per cent above the local government average [last year] clearly required action and I’m proud of the work done since to support our people – including the introduction of a new mental health and wellbeing policy and toolkit for employees, mental health first-aiders, training for all managers and access to an employee assistance programme for our staff and their families.

“Although we have seen a vast improvement, we are not complacent and will continue to value our people and invest as required in their wellbeing.”

The move of the two councils’ offices from Hadleigh and Needham Market to Ipswich was considered one of the reasons behind the increase, while greater awareness and understanding of anxiety and mental health problems is also understood to be a factor.

But the Green group at the councils said it was of 'great concern'.

Rachel Eburne, Mid Suffolk Green leader, said: “It had been thought that the previous upward trend was due to concerns about the move from Needham and Hadleigh to central Ipswich and subsequently finding the working environment in the new offices difficult to settle into. There must be other underlying causes which need to be considered, including ensuring staff have a satisfactory work/life balance.

“Staff are our most important asset and we would like to see further work done to understand why staff feel this way and then put an appropriate plan in place to address it.”

Babergh Green leader Robert Lindsay added that there may be a trend across local councils where staff were being put under pressure to deliver more with fewer resources as a result of cutbacks.

John ward, Conservative leader at Babergh, said reduced fear around reporting mental health problems could have played a part.