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How good work and integrated care can help reduce the impact of physical and mental health conditions

Robin McGee

08 October 2010

This Sunday (10 October 2010) is World Mental Health Day, and the theme is: ‘Mental Health and Chronic Physical Illnesses: The Need for Continued and Integrated Care.’ Along these lines, our new report, Body and Soul, examines the relationship between mental and physical health and the impact of these conditions on productivity and work participation.  

Having both a physical and mental health condition is common, and the prevalence of mental health conditions is higher among those with chronic physical health conditions, and vice versa. The relationship between mental and physical health conditions is bi-directional – meaning that physical health impacts mental health and mental health impacts physical health. When individuals have both mental and physical health conditions, their health and work outcomes are often worse.

In addition to examining the relationship between mental and physical health conditions, Body and Soul explores interventions that seek to reduce the impact these conditions have on individuals and society. This year’s World Mental Health Day calls for continued and integrated care, which Body and Soul also recommends. More effort needs to be directed to integrating care for physical and mental health.  

The report also provides recommendations for employers. We know that work, particularly good work, is good for health and can aid recovery. Therefore, providing good quality jobs that offer flexibility, autonomy and control, can mitigate the effects of health conditions – mental and physical – on individuals, employers and society.  Work provides a sense of normalcy, which is illustrated by the following quote highlighted in the report:
‘I felt that one thing that would really help was if I could keep on doing the stuff I did before as much as possible so my life wouldn’t be limited by the condition.’

Our report calls for stakeholders to improve recognition between physical and mental health and to identify, design and provide effective interventions that address both physical and mental health in the health care setting, as well as the workplace setting. In the coming years, the prevalence of mental and chronic physical health conditions is set to increase, which means that employers and health professionals will have to do more to reduce the impact of these conditions on the working age population. Already one in six working-age individuals have a common mental health condition and the cost of mental health problems in England exceeds £105 billion. Therefore, mental health remains an important issue for individuals, families, colleagues, line managers, health professionals and policy makers.