Coronavirus has been tough on our mental health - but GMB's got our back

Equality - 01 Sep 2020

GMB member, Ian Kemp, writes about the impact of coronavirus on mental health and calls for us to come together in these difficult times and hold employers and the Government to account, when it comes to protecting workers' mental health

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I’ve worked in the steel industry, for what is now called Liberty Speciality Steels, since leaving school, for 40 years. For 35 of those years, I’ve been a proud active member of the GMB.

When the Government announced lockdown due to Covid-19 and the coronavirus pandemic, manufacturing was deemed to be essential. As someone who works in the steel industry, this meant that myself and my colleagues had to continue working.

Concerns have been raised about the effect on the mental health of those unable to work during lockdown, and rightly so. However, there has also been a huge impact on the mental health of those who had to carry on working whilst many were unable to.

Those working in the steel industry see themselves as being part of a community. There are many who were at school together and are now work colleagues and mates. Washing, changing and dining in the workplace are communal.

Outside of work, most firms have social clubs. Liberty is no exception, with employees having the choice of three, with sporting and recreational facilities. In addition, all the local professional sports clubs are well supported by steelworkers.

Historically, the steel industry has looked after the health and well-being of its employees. It was amongst the first industries to take mental health seriously.

As someone who experiences reactive depression and anxiety, I find it massively helpful to have this support network, whether it’s being able to access counselling via the works medical centre, playing bowls then going for a drink or having a bit of banter about football with work colleagues.

When lockdown came, protocols had to be put in place at work that led to the fracturing of my workplace support network. Access to both communal and medical facilities were restricted.

The whole lockdown situation put a strain on every employee’s mental health. This started before even beginning the working day.

It was possible to travel to work without seeing anybody, with even the M1 being devoid of traffic.

Restrictions on changing and dining facilities reduced socialising during working hours. Effectively, conversations during the day were limited to work and Covid-19.

With only essential shops open, there was no outlet to socialise after work. A number of colleagues felt guilty about working whilst many family and friends were unable to.

Despite the protocols in place, almost inevitably, a number of employees became infected with the virus, including one of my own colleagues. This caused anxiety about whether the virus had spread within the works, with the very real worry of passing it onto family members.

Being a carer myself, I had the additional anxiety of worrying about infecting someone who was already seriously ill.

With the breakdown of my support networks in the workplace, I could easily have had a recurrence of my depression. However, I had the help and support of the GMB family.

As a union, the GMB takes mental health seriously. I know there is always someone to turn to. My region, Yorkshire & North Derbyshire, started a weekly drop-in meeting on Zoom, giving members a chance to talk about anything and everything.

Although not mental health experts, it was a big help having someone to talk to. There is a tradition of workers self-help and I am proud of my union for carrying this on.

We may have a Tory government that doesn’t care about our mental health but the GMB does.

That’s why we are asking all GMB members to complete our survey on mental health in the workplace and on the impact of Covid-19.

Take the GMB mental health survey

We need to hear what matters to workers like you and me, whether you are in the steelworks, working in a school or security, wherever your workplace is, GMB want to know about your concerns and your experiences.

It’s totally confidential, doesn’t take long and your manager won’t know if you have completed it.

We need to come together in these difficult times and hold employers and the Government to account, when it comes to protecting workers' mental health, during this pandemic and beyond.

Share the survey on Facebook Share the survey on WhatsApp

Please do consider sharing the survey with other members, so we can get the information we need to make a difference in everyone’s workplace.

I know will!

Ian Kemp
Yorkshire & North Derbyshire Regional Equality Forum Chair, National Shipbuilding & Steel Activists Committee Chair​


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