The welfare system must support those who cannot work. However, for those who can, helping them into work is an important step to rebuilding lives and self-esteem.
There is a shocking employment gap when it comes to mental health; just 43% of people with mental health problems are in employment compared to 74% of the general population and 65% of people with other health conditions. Given the social and financial benefits of employment these figures are alarming.
In recent weeks, the Prime Minister has announced significant extra investment for programmes that help unemployed people with mental health problems find and (just as importantly) stay in work. This includes funding to double access to talking therapies for people suffering from conditions like anxiety or depression, to increase the numbers of mental health experts in jobcentres, and to double the reach of Independent Placement and Support Programmes, which find work for people with mental health conditions. The Prime Minister’s investment in mental health and his recognition of the importance of work should therefore be welcomed.
However, alongside extra investment and the extension of treatment, it is important that employers work to change work place attitudes and cultures towards mental health. The National Attitudes to Mental Illness survey in 2013 found that although overall stigmatization of people with mental health problems has decreased, 49% of respondents would still be unwilling to discus their own mental health with their employer. If we are to prevent problems escalating, it is essential that employees experiencing problems feel able to speak up and seek help.
Having spoken up, it is also essential that employers are able to signpost their employees to support services. To enable them to do this, line managers should be given training to support employees who are experiencing problems and employee support services should be put in place.
One in four adults experience mental health problems in any given year and mental ill health at work is thought to cost UK employers £26 billion a year. Additionally, in 2011 UK productivity was 20 percentage points lower than the rest of the G7 (partly as a result of absence from work but also increasingly as a result of presenteeism – attending work when ill or disengaged). The business case for supporting employee mental health is therefore clear.
Saskia Greenhalgh, Centre for Social Justice