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Stephen  Bevan

Health Minister launches mental health guidance at The Work Foundation

Authors: Stephen Bevan Steve Bevan

26 June 2012

 The challenge of mental illness in the UK workforce is, slowly but surely, emerging from the shadows. The recent debate in Parliament and the willingness of a growing number of high-profile public figures disclosing their own battles with depression are evidence of this. Today at The Work Foundation Health Minister Earl Howe launched the latest Public Health Responsibility Deal pledge on mental health at work. The focus of the pledge, and the guidance material for employers which accompanies it, is the need to make simple adjustments at work for people with mental illness.

Earlier this year I was asked by Dame Carol Black to chair a group of experts from mental health charities, clinicians, employers and unions to discuss and draft guidance for employers on how to go about making such adjustments to support job retention and return to work for people with depression and anxiety. With support from my colleague, Rosemary Thomas, the group has produced some very practical advice and a guide to online resources which we hope will help employers to create supportive workplaces for the growing number of employees who experience mental health problems.

Launching the pledge and the guidance material, Earl Howe said:

“A good working environment is crucial for our wellbeing - and it can help aid the recovery of mental health conditions. However, stigma and lack of understanding means many remain unemployed or underutilised.”

Dame Carol Black set the guidance in context:

“At any time, one in six adults will be experiencing a mental health condition.  Most of these people are of working age and are in employment.  Mental health conditions cost UK businesses £8.4 billion in sickness absence and a further £15.1 billion in lost productivity.”

An important message from this work is that most workplace adjustments are simple and inexpensive to implement. They might include flexible working, a phased return to work, temporary changes to workloads or deadlines, or a workplace ‘buddy’ or mentor.

Several organisations – including The Work Foundation – have already signed up to the pledge, including, EDF Energy, the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF), dairy company Roddas, contract caterer Bartlett Mitchell, The Charity for Civil Servants as well as the Centre for Mental Health, the Christie NHS Foundation Trust and the Department of Health. We need many more employers to sign up to this pledge and to embrace the guidance we have produced.

The more our employees have access to psychologically healthy workplaces and employment practices which allow them to stay in or return to work, the fewer barriers there will be to their ability to benefit from the positive impact of work on their health.