Capability to work is an invaluable part of the path to good mental health
17 August 2012
Paul Jenkins' recent article for the Huffington Post focused on the government’s unredeemed promise to make real investments on mental health services. According to Jenkins, people with mental health conditions struggle to get access to basic services such as medication reviews or psychological therapies.
There has been a lot of discussion in the media recently about the need to secure basic services for people with mental health conditions. However, little consideration has been given to what these “basic services” might (or should) include. Unfortunately, the importance of work as a key feature of good mental health is lacking from these conversations.
Mental health difficulties are expensive for society. The direct cost of the treatment and care of disabling mental health conditions such as schizophrenia are estimated to be £2 billion, with other costs amounting to nearly £4.7 billion. Nearly 70% of those other costs are caused by lost productivity, such as unemployment and absence from work (Mangalore and Knapp 2007).
There is considerable research evidence that early intervention would help people with mental health conditions get back into work. The longer a person spends out of work the less likely it is they will return to or find employment. It was estimated in one recent study (McCrone, Knapp, Dhanasiri 2009) that early intervention services would have the potential to save 35% of costs mainly due to lower hospital readmissions.
Numerous studies have found a clear link between work and mental wellbeing. Unfortunately healthcare professionals often do not view employment as a realistic outcome for people with serious mental health disorders. Instead it is widely believed that working would worsen their mental health. As a result, many people with mental health conditions who are hoping to return to work lack the support they desperately need to fulfil their dream of finding a job.
Jenkins calls for more leaders in the NHS who can see the bigger picture and who recognise that mental health is crucial to all patients. NHS leaders need to understand the value of work as a part of this bigger picture - the capability to work can radically change people's lives.
At The Work Foundation we are undertaking research which outlines how healthcare professionals and employers can better support people with schizophrenia in the workplace. Our research is one of the many important steps towards better employment opportunities for people with severe mental health conditions. This really needs to be a priority for our society at the moment and we look forward to presenting the findings in the near future.