Social TV
Public Relations

Actively managing mental health in the NPO space to ensure sustainability

October was Mental Health Awareness Month – a topic that is more relevant than ever during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the viral threat of the pandemic seems to be getting under control, the mental scars and trauma still linger, especially for non-profit (NPO) workers who have been exposed to higher levels of stress, grief and trauma than before.

The pandemic has greatly impacted the helpers, who are in many instances seen as heroes and whose strength gives the less fortunate hope in their challenging social conditions. Whilst most professionals working in the business world are exposed to regular types of stressful situations, non-profit workers are faced with situations like child abuse, severe poverty, diseases, disasters, unemployment, hunger, homelessness, and ultimately, hopelessness. But the question is, who takes care of these heroes?

While there are many fulfilling aspects of being part of a non-profit organisation, the over-exposure to traumatic situations may lead to Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS), which is stress that an individual might experience after being indirectly exposed to trauma.

In a survey that social impact company Valcare conducted with a group of social workers in the NPO space concerning their mental wellness, it was discovered that “66% of the social workers often cannot cope with hearing traumatic situations experienced by clients”.
“Furthermore, 50% admitted to continuously thinking about these situations even when they did not tend to,” says the report.
Adding to stress emanating from secondary trauma, finances and job security also impact NPO employees’ mental wellbeing. During a Covid-19 Impact survey that Valcare conducted with their members at the end of 2020, 72% of members indicated that they are concerned about finances.

The Cape Winelands-based social impact company has a network of 199 NPOs that gain from and conrtribute from a set of benefits, which include capacity building, resources and funding opportunity.

The NPOwer Mental Health Support Programs survey conducted by social investment company, Tshikululu, and The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on NPO workers confirmed the need for urgent intervention.

Workers at local NPOs are experiencing high levels of psychological distress and are at risk for developing mental illness, according to the survey.

It further reveals that, “the exacerbation of already difficult psychological and socio-economic conditions for many families prompted non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to quickly mobilise and provide immediate support during such highly unprecedented conditions. However, the sustained nature of the pandemic has not only continued to threaten the livelihoods of families, but also placed massive burdens on services offered by NGOs, and, importantly, the people working tirelessly to sustain these vital programmes.”

In response to the mental health needs of NPO workers, a few initiatives have been launched to give support to improve their psychological wellness. These include the NPOwer Mental Health Support Program, Mental Wealth ZA and Valcare’s psycho-social support initiative, which includes making psychologists available to their members as well as running mental health . workshops in partnership with specialist NPOs such as, Sp(i)eel Arts Therapies Collective and Good Hope Psychological Service.

“The non-profit space is centred around a network of people who are continuously giving of themselves to support others. It is therefore extremely important to ensure that the workers’ cups remain full, so they can sustainably serve those who need it most. In South Africa, non-profit workers are a critical part of our society and their well-being needs to be a priority,” says Ivan Swartz, CEO of Valcare.

According to psychologist Carien de Klerk, the Director of Good Hope Psychological Service, and members of the Valcare membership network, people who are constantly exposed to trauma are affected in their capacity to cope by the stress that comes with that line of work.

“When someone is constantly under a specific kind of stress, their capacity to cope with stress starts to wear down. They become burnt out and the fatigue ends up affecting various aspects of their lives,” says De Klerk.

She advises that frontline workers take care of their mental wellness in order for them to be effective when caring for others in their capacity as social workers.

The importance of supporting and investing into the holistic wellbeing of NPO workers can’t be understated. Many NPO leaders and managers are themselves also facing stressful situations and lack of funding and resources, and some NPOs have been forced to close their doors which could have a devastating effect on beneficiaries who now have nowhere to turn to for help.

In order for non-profits in South Africa to sustainably continue to provide vital services, resources and support to vulnerable people, the mental health of NPO workers needs to be placed higher on the agenda from a board and leadership perspective, but also from a social investment perspective.

Related posts

Surprise breakthrough’ for Kenyan scientists

Viwe Tyolwana

City seeks finance partners to boost its renewable energy plans

Amanda Mkhize

Looters and Racists Cannot Set the Agenda

Amanda Mkhize

DHL kicks off 1 million meals campaign on WFD

Amanda Mkhize

Heroes fighting youth unemployment, one job at a time

Amanda Mkhize

Wintergreen joins Major League Rugby as official partner

Amanda Mkhize
Social TV