A workplace focus on World Mental Health Day
Authors: Stephen Bevan
10 October 2012
On World Mental Health Day it seems appropriate to pause and to reflect both on what has been achieved in promoting better understanding of mental illness, and what is still to achieve. Today I spoke at an event with Health Minister Norman Lamb MP to draw attention to the issue of mental health at work and to highlight some of the excellent work which the Department of Health as an employer is doing to promote psychological wellbeing.
The Work Foundation has, as you might imagine, focused on mental health among people of working age because it represents a significant factor affecting quality of life, productivity and labour market participation.
Let’s remind ourselves of the extent of the problem posed by mental iIllness in the UK:
Mental illness in the UK in numbers:
- Right now, 1 in 6 workers is experiencing depression, anxiety or stress, at a cost of £26 billion to the UK economy, or around £1,035 per employee
- UK economy suffers from 70 million lost working days each year due to mental health problems
- At least one third of all families (including parents and their children) include someone who is currently mentally ill
- Only a quarter of all those with mental illness are in treatment
- Among people in work, mental illness accounts for nearly a half of all absenteeism. And among people out of work, mental illness again accounts for nearly half of all people on incapacity benefits
- A third of people in the UK say they would not be willing to work with someone who has a mental health problem
- Mental illness has the same effect on life-expectancy as smoking, and more than obesity
- Nearly a third of all people with long-term physical conditions have a co-morbid mental health problem like depression or anxiety disorders. These mental health conditions raise the costs of physical health-care by at least 45%
- The Centre for Mental Health estimates that mental illness reduces GDP by 4.1% or £52 billion a year
- 50% of mentally ill adults were mentally ill before the age of 15
- 30% of all crime (costing society some £20 billion a year) is committed by people who had a clinically diagnosable conduct disorder in childhood or adolescence
- The drug most frequently used to treat depression is alcohol.
Mental Health at Work
The Work Foundation has conducted several research studies looking at mental health in UK workplaces, including a new study on schizophrenia which will be published next month. We have also been working with colleagues in the government’s Responsibility Deal Health & Work Network to produce material which supports the new Pledge on workplace adjustments for people with mental illness.
This pledge is intended to be very practical and to convince employers that it is often the simplest and least expensive adjustments which can have the most impact on both job retention and return to work. In putting together the pledge and the guidance material which accompanies it we have taken care to consult with experts, employers and third sector colleagues to ensure the guidance is based both on evidence and on recognised good practice.
The Work Foundation as an employer has also signed up to the pledge and the guidance material is being woven into our own existing health and wellbeing policies.
We know from the research evidence that a compassionate and practical response to mental illness by employers can go a long way to reduce stigma and to make working environments psychologically healthy. For many employees with mental illness we also know that good jobs promote positive mental health. So there is a win:win here. I am confident that if more UK employers embraced the simple principles set out in the pledge, more people with mental health issues would be able to be productive members of the workforce.
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