older psychiatryPsychological professionals are feeling increasingly stressed in their jobs, with nearly half reporting experiencing depression, a new survey has found.

Findings from the British Psychological Society (BPS) and New Savoy staff wellbeing survey of more than 1,300 psychological professionals in the NHS in 2015 showed that 46% of psychological professionals surveyed reported depression, with 49.5% saying they felt a failure. One quarter considered they now have a long-term, chronic condition, and 70% said they find their jobs stressful. 

All these findings are up on those reported in 2014, with stress at work up by 12% and incidents of bullying and harassment more than double what they were two years ago. The overall picture is one of burnout, low morale and worrying levels of stress and depression in a key workforce that is responsible for improving the mental health of the public. The majority of respondents made negative comments about their work environment, with only 10% of comments being more positive:

Some of the complaints respondents made included:

“Being target driven is the bane of our lives.”

“IAPT [Improving Access to Psychological Therapies] is a politically-driven monster which does not cater for staff feedback/input in any way. All we are told is TARGETS!!! And work harder.”

“It is invigorating to work in a team where thoughtfulness, understanding, support and compassion are central to what we do, not seen as an optional extra or a luxury.”

“I am so disappointed I have just resigned.”

“I carry my resignation in my diary now as I feel that I’m on the verge of giving up battling.”

The survey shows psychological therapists now have lower levels of job career satisfaction than other NHS staff, with poor employee engagement and loss of autonomy. This reflects a worrying trend. Last year the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies warned that “an NHS management culture of bullying and intimidation, [is] preventing us from openly raising our concerns, and undermining our clinical judgment”. 

Common themes identified by the survey were a managerial fixation on targets – complained about by 41% - and workplace environments creating stress and burnout, complained about by 38%. Extra administrative demands, an increase in having to work unpaid hours and staff being prevented from providing adequate therapy due to resource cuts were other frequent themes.

Resetting the balance 

To combat this, the BPS has launched a Charter that aims to reset the balance in the drive to improve access. It asks for a greater focus on support for staff wellbeing to sustain the impact psychological services have when delivered effectively. Those services which have good staff wellbeing will be more sustainable and make the most difference to those they are helping.

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, BPS president, said: “Health and wellbeing at work are vital issues which we of all people should be particularly concerned about. This is an area close to my heart… I have worked in, led and managed NHS services and have seen the effects of stress, overwork, inadequate supervision and consequent burnout at first hand.”

The Charter, which is endorsed by Public Health England, was launched by Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director for Health and Wellbeing, Public Health England, he said: “The work behind the Charter… is invaluable in highlighting some of the challenges present amongst the NHS workforce. The detailed statistics and figures quoted make the case for action clear… Public Health England is strongly supportive of such efforts emerging from clinical leaders, which will help address the needs of NHS staff from an informed perspective. It is a real statement that BPS members are committing to bring the skills of psychological therapy experts within the NHS directly to bear on its own needs. Not only will this improve the wellbeing and productivity of NHS staff, but ultimately outcomes for patients.”

Former Care Minister, the Right Honourable Norman Lamb MP has welcomed the Charter: “Psychological staff play an invaluable role in the drive to rectify the imbalance between mental and physical health in the NHS, but we know all too well the enormous pressures that they face,” he said. 

“Quite apart from the clear moral argument for taking staff wellbeing seriously, we cannot hope to achieve equality for mental health unless the psychological workforce is properly supported. The Five Year Forward View highlighted the importance of staff wellbeing in NHS organisations, and I welcome the launch of this charter as a timely and important contribution in this area.”

Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health, Luciana Berger MP, also welcomed the Charter: “The mental health of people in the workplace, and particularly of those who provide psychological support, is of the utmost importance. It is unacceptable that the dedicated psychological professionals who provide vital support to those in need, are themselves increasingly suffering from stress and other mental health conditions. The Charter will play an important role in helping employers promote and improve the wellbeing of their staff. I wish all the organisations signed up to the Charter every success in fulfilling its aims.”