Mental health concerns prompt ‘be kind or be quiet’ plea from East Devon councillor to colleagues

East Devon councillors have been urged to ‘be kind or be quiet’ to protect colleagues’ mental health – after a meeting heard ‘vitriol’ has reduced representatives to tears. 

The district authority’s deputy leader made the plea for language to be kept ‘at a decent level’ at a meeting of its cabinet last week, writes Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Clark.

Councillor Paul Hayward said that, prior to his election in 2019, he had seen representatives ‘reduced to tears’ by the words of some colleagues.

East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) cabinet was at the time considering a recommendation to appoint a lead officer for mental health.

Cllr Hayward said: “I am aware that councillors have been reduced to tears by the words of other councillors. If we can be anything, be kind. And if you cannot be kind, be quiet.

“The mental health of councillors as important as the wider public. Councillors, think and keep your vitriol and language to a decent level.”

Members unanimously agreed that surveys are sent to councillors and officers to capture information on the current state of mental health and bespoke training be provided.

They also agreed sign the council up to the Local Authority Mental Health Challenge.

However, the cabinet deferred a request to consider appointing a lead officer for mental health in the organisation until its next meeting.

This is to allow for a full report to be produced over cost and resourcing implications and to establish whether there is already someone qualified for the role within the organisation, or whether an external appointment is necessary.

Cllr Steve Gazzard said: “We do need someone to look after the staff, councillors and members of the public.

“Other agencies snowed under and we have a duty of care.

“We need to try and prevent a lot of sad things that have happened and make things easier over the next six months or however long it will be.”

Cllr Ian Hall added: “Mental health is one of the biggest challenges we will undertake throughout the pandemic.

“We know that families are having stressful times at the moment and the people of East Devon need as much support as possible.”

Cabinet members did agree for £37,5000 of extra funding to be set aside for a specialist mental health support officer to work within the council’s housing services team.

It follows a recommendation from the authority’s Housing Review Board.

Cllr Megan Armstrong called for the role to be safeguarded and kept separate, adding: “I don’t want the role to be shared as they will have more than enough dealing with the tenants.

“There is no way that one or two people can cope with dealing with mental health of us, officers and the public.

“I don’t know if we have anyone qualified anyway and would be pleasantly surprised if we did or who could draw it into their job description.”

The post will be funded from EDDC’s Housing Revenue Account

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