The Public Service Association has requested an independent investigation into the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board’s workplace practises after a mental health worker died in a suspected suicide from what a colleague alleges was the culmination of extreme job stress.
Workers in the DHB’s alcohol and drug department recently met with union representatives to discuss their concerns about the case and generally about the stresses they were under in the workplace.
As a result, documents cited by the Nelson Weekly show that the PSA requested an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the mental health worker, who died on August 14.
However, the DHB rebuffed the request saying it would be inappropriate while a Coroner’s inquest was underway.
A co-worker of the man who died, who wishes to remain anonymous, says long hours, an overload of cases, and his treatment by management contributed to his death.
“He had a very happy home life, there were no issues or concerns there, he was a happy man and loved his family.”
The woman says the man often worked late into the evening and on weekends just to manage caseloads.
“He would go over and above.”
She describes her job as a “powerless and humiliating” work environment.
The woman says the mental health team at Nelson Marlborough Health are understaffed which affects their ability to care for clients.
She says that the PSA had recently done a survey of the staff in the team which revealed that the feeling of disenfranchisement was widespread.
“We do the best we can with the resources we have, we have tried to talk to management, but it has fallen on deaf ears.”
The woman says, during performance appraisals they were pressured into taking on more work. The man had previously taken one week leave due to work related stress.
She says his work with youth weighed on him heavily.
“Youth are a lot more vulnerable and susceptible to reacting to risks and taking their own lives.”
The PSA did not respond to requests for comment, however, it has previously publicly admonished the DHB for not listening to its requests to structure the mental health team’s correctly to allow for a healthier workload.
Nationally, it has said that mental health teams were facing a “significant workforce crisis” which was exposing them to “dangerous levels of risk”.
General manager of mental health addictions and disability support services at Nelson Marlborough Health, Jane Kinsey, says 2020 has been a very challenging year.
“We’ve had to do things differently to maintain a high-quality service throughout Covid-19, while managing an increase in referrals to our services.”
Jane says some of the addictions support team have faced personal challenges this year.
“Our thoughts are with them and their whanau.”
She says it is a credit to the team that they have continued to provide high-quality care.
“We value and appreciate their expertise and commitment.”
It’s ok to ask for help:
In an emergency: Phone 111
1737: Free phone or text 1737 to reach a counsellor
Healthline: Free phone Healthline to talk to a nurse 0800 611 116
Free helplines available
Depression: 0800 111 757 or text 4202
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865
Youthline: 0800 376 633 or text 234