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Who cares about carers? Experiences of community mental health support workers from a feminist perspective

Research regarding care labour is a relatively new area of interest. The long-term availability of a robust community care workforce has recently become a topical concern amongst many policy makers, scholars and activists in western countries as the demand for care is expected to expand rapidly over the next few decades. Care workforce shortages are likely to pose a significant problem as the demand for care is escalating at the same time as traditional sources of unpaid care are diminishing. A high proportion of both paid and unpaid care is still undertaken by women. Research indicates that labour undertaken by workers in caring occupations is generally undervalued, unrecognised and unrewarded, which contributes to on-going discrepancies in society such as the gender wage gap. This research focuses on the care work carried out by community mental health support workers. The aim of this research was to explore a feminist perspective, which states that care work is devalued by society due to it being similar in nature to the unpaid domestic labour that has traditionally been undertaken by women. More specifically this research aimed to explore the extent to which this feminist theory can be applied to community mental health support work in New Zealand and the impact that such an association may have on the value placed on this work. Fourteen in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with community mental health support workers from regions across New Zealand. In order to determine the value placed on this work, support workers were asked questions designed to elicit information about their working conditions. A thematic data analysis was carried out on the interviews. The results of this research indicate that support workers are extremely dissatisfied with the low wages attributed to this work. Working with service users and other colleagues are the most rewarding aspects of support work, which may have a buffering affect on the marginalising work conditions. Problems inherent in the mental health system were identified. The high staff turnover of mental health support workers and the associated problems with this are also highlighted. Low levels of supervision is characteristic of support work and training is commonly perceived as too bland and generalised. The safety of support workers is often not a high priority. The presence of hierarchy within heath care organisations was also a common theme to emerge. Poor mental health funding is deemed an important contributor to the issues related to community support work. Suggestions for addressing the working conditions of support work are put forward. Further research with larger sample sizes is required to validate the findings. However the results are consistent with previous literature and lend support to the notion that mental health support work is not a valued occupation. This research contributes to the limited scientific knowledge base regarding structural gender discrimination and New Zealand based community mental health support work. Moreover this research provides a unique and rare insight of this work from the perspective of mental health support workers themselves.
Type of thesis
Taylor, G. E. (2015). Who cares about carers? Experiences of community mental health support workers from a feminist perspective (Thesis, Master of Applied Psychology (MAppPsy)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/9649
University of Waikato
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