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Staff sickness related to mental health issues at Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils more than doubles, data shows

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

Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Council headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich. (13942749)
Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Council headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich. (13942749)

Arthur Charvonia, chief executive of the two councils, said figures so far for this year indicated that it had improved, but acknowledged that 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 that 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% 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”.

Mid Suffolk Green leader Rachel Eburne 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 have played a part, and added: “We have responded with the measures that Arthur has outlined and also by appointing two lead officers responsible with external and internal mental health issues and also by appointing a member mental health champion.”