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In brief: HIV and mental health, workplace wellbeing, and more

Concept image of virus
Fusion Medical Animation | Unsplash

Top story Mental health service users more likely to be diagnosed with HIV

HIV is more than twice as common among individuals who have contact with mental health services compared with the general population, according to a new study.

The study included over 181,000 adults who sought help from mental health services at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust between January 2007 and December 2018.

Using national HIV surveillance data, the researchers discovered that 2.47% of the cohort had been diagnosed with HIV, which is more than double the prevalence of HIV in the general population of the four south London boroughs covered by mental health services during the study period.

Among those in contact with secondary mental health services who had an HIV diagnosis, the majority were men (75%) with an average age of 34 years.

Interestingly, 27% had no formal mental health diagnosis, indicating that HIV prevalence was elevated even among individuals without a diagnosed mental health condition.

This group's most common mental health diagnoses were substance disorders (18%) followed by mood disorders (15%).

While it has been known that individuals accessing mental health services generally have poorer physical health compared with the general population, this study highlights the elevated risk of HIV specifically.

Co-author and professor of nursing at Edinburgh Napier University, Liz Hughes, said:

“People with mental illness experience poorer physical health compared with those without mental illness.

“There have been some fantastic initiatives in NHS mental health services to reduce the health disparity. However, these have mainly focused on cardiovascular and metabolic conditions.

“Our findings provide evidence for the first time in a UK setting, that people who use mental health services have elevated risk of HIV infection.

“It is vitally important that sexual health and blood-borne viruses are addressed as part of the overall response to improving the physical wellbeing of people who experience mental health issues.”

4 in 5 tradespeople experiencing work-related mental health problems

More than four in five (84%) tradespeople in the UK experience mental health problems related to work.

The findings come from a new study that also reveals that over two-thirds (68%) of tradespeople experience mental health symptoms, such as depression, stress or anxiety, on a monthly basis.

Alarmingly, over a quarter (30%) report experiencing symptoms every week.

Financial worries – although still a leading cause of stress – have been surpassed by the broader cost-of-living crisis as the primary concern, affecting the mental health of nearly two in five (39%) tradespeople.

As a result, the same proportion (39%) are taking on extra shifts, putting themselves at risk of burnout.

The rising cost of materials has also become one of the main stressors, with 36% of tradespeople identifying it as a significant challenge.

The study also reveals that a large majority (84%) of tradespeople do not feel comfortable discussing their feelings with others, indicating a lack of support networks within the industry.

Only 17% have spoken to friends or family about their mental health, and 10% worry about how their colleagues would perceive them if they were to share their struggles.

Tradespeople also appear to be reluctant to take time off for mental health reasons, with more than a quarter (27%) feeling unable to take time off work for mental health reasons.

Among different trades, builders are the most likely to experience daily stress or anxiety (16%), while surveyors reported the highest overall prevalence of mental health problems, with 98% stating that they experience issues at least once a year.

Only 10% of employees seek mental health support from managers

Only 10% of employees with mental health symptoms sought support from their line manager over the past 12 months.

The study by insurance provider Aviva surveyed 2,005 employees and 1,001 employers, revealing that only 5% of employees would turn to HR or a well-being officer for mental health support, while 14% would speak to a colleague.

Aviva highlighted a "disconnect" between employers and employees in terms of the perceived adequacy of mental health support.

While 79% of employers believed they were good at recognising when team members were under pressure, only 44% of employees agreed that their line manager was "very good" at recognising their pressure – a slight increase from 77% and 37%, respectively, in 2020.

However, both employers and employees reported a decline in their belief that the stigma around mental health has decreased.

In 2021, 49% of employers and 59% of employees thought the stigma had diminished, compared with 74% of both groups in 2020.

This may be linked to the finding that there was a slight decrease in the number of colleagues who claimed to have ‘done their best’ to support a team member with a mental health condition –dropping to 71% from 76% in 2020 – as scepticism regarding whether colleagues genuinely had mental health issues increased slightly from 5% to 8% over the past three years.

Rising number of people with blindness seeking mental health support

Henshaws, a sight loss charity in the North West of England, is facing challenges due to a surge in the number of people with blindness seeking access to its mental health support.

The charity, which operates in Greater Manchester and Merseyside, now has a waiting list of six and a half months as it tries to meet the increasing demand.

Before the pandemic, Henshaws supported an average of six individuals per month, but since the start of 2023, that number has doubled to an average of 12 per month.

In March alone, the charity helped 16 people accessing its mental health support service.

Henshaws attributes the rising numbers to the cost of living and the impact of the pandemic, which have created additional mental health challenges for individuals with sight loss, such as delayed hospital appointments resulting from COVID-19.

In response to the increased demand, the charity has been making structural changes and considering the employment of another counsellor.


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