A record 54,481 days were lost in Southern Trust hospitals last year due to stress and mental health issues, the highest rate among Northern Ireland’s five health trusts.
Worryingly, the figure has soared by 29 percent in the past two years for which figures are available to a level double that of some other trusts.
The sickness level suggests that stress levels are taking their toll on staff at South Tyrone and Craigavon Area Hospitals as the local health service faces savage austerity cuts.
Union Unite, which represents around 4,000 health workers, said it was clear that the crisis shows the biggest asset of the NHS - the staff - are at breaking point.
In 2013, the total number of days lost in the Southern Trust to mental health amounted to 2.6% of the total working days available. The South Eastern Trust had the next highest level of 40,311 days which amounted to 1.9% of working days.
A spokesperson for the Southern Trust said that mental-health related sickness absence realted to a wide range of issues including depression, anxiety, grief, bereavement and stress arising from personal as well as work-related issues.
“The Trust has a Procedure for the Management of Sickness Absence and it is a Trust priority that
attendance and sickness absence be managed effectively, sympathetically and sensitively, while bearing in mind the impact on service delivery and on the workloads of other staff.
Mental ill-health is now more openly discussed and recognised as being a significant issue in the workplace and in wider society as people have become increasingly aware of the issues involved.
The Trust takes a proactive approach to the issue of mental health illness.
“A range of guidance is in place to support staff at times of bereavement and stress. The Trust has in place a Stress Management Policy and Toolkit for both managers and staff. “
The Trust also promotes Work Life Balance to enable staff to balance both home and work commitments.