From the President, November 2020

The latest from Hazel McLaughlin.

I was recently asked to write a short piece for our colleagues in the Global Psychology Alliance, looking at the challenges psychologists face as mental health professionals, which are especially acute during this pandemic. We know that there has been a sharp rise in mental health issues including stress, depression and anxiety.

Whilst we are rightly proud of the BPS’s response to Covid-19, including the 70 pieces of timely guidance, our role is going to become more important as mental health concerns rise. The restrictions and measures brought in to prevent the spread of Covid-19 have hit the nation’s mental health hard, and for people from all walks of life. The situation is particularly acute for our health workers who have been on the frontline of this crisis.

As psychologists we have a significant role, both in the short term during Covid-19, and in supporting long-term mental health in our society. In some ways we could argue that the current pandemic can be seen as a turning point for UK mental health provision. As part of our response to the release of the NHS Interim People Plan in July, we highlighted the multi-level approach that psychology brings, and which can make a difference for patients, staff and organisations.

With government and decision makers, we continue to highlight the significant role of psychology and how to make a difference for the mental health of the nation. Psychology touches people’s lives in different ways. Particularly pertinent today is the role of leaders and organisations who have responsibility for ensuring that workplaces are psychologically healthy as well as physically safe.

With the rise in mental health issues, there is a need for different styles of leadership and different ways of working. Compassionate leadership is becoming a core theme in the NHS, and it also has a place in other work environments. There has been significant research into the benefits of compassionate leadership, and for anyone looking to find out more, I suggest Professor Michael West’s work for the King’s Fund (tinyurl.com/y5mj38xf and from The Psychologist tinyurl.com/westaug19).

Our recent response to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee’s call for evidence on workforce burnout and resilience in the NHS highlighted that Covid-19 has exacerbated existing problems for NHS staff, many of whom were already under significant pressure.

Compassionate leadership focuses on improving staff wellbeing, loyalty, engagement and productivity. This is relevant for all organisations and particularly in the NHS where the eventual outcome is an improved experience for patients.

A leadership compact is being developed by the NHS to drive the behaviour and values of its senior managers and, we would argue, with compassion at the centre of NHS management initiatives.

For employers, the coming months will involve careful management of the blended approach to work, and we urge organisations to take this opportunity to address wellbeing and mental health. Psychologists work with employers to make long-lasting changes to workplaces that not only make them Covid-secure, but healthy and sustainable for all staff.

Covid-19 has been an unprecedented crisis, but let’s work together to create positive long-term changes from it. Together we can build the ‘new normal’ where mental health in the workplace is at the top of the agenda. I know that many BPS members already have responsibilities for staff wellbeing, whether in the NHS or elsewhere. What are your experiences of best practice in embedding compassionate leadership and enhancing wellbeing for psychologically healthy workplaces?

- Dr Hazel McLaughlin is President of the British Psychological Society. Find interviews with her and more in our archive. Contact her at [email protected] 

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