Mental health conditions are extensive but often hidden, with one in four adults experiencing a diagnosable mental health condition in any one year representing the largest single cause of disability in the UK. It is a central public health issue, contributing to the wider health and social outcomes for both individuals and society.
This World Mental Health Day, the theme places a spotlight on mental health in the workplace since a large proportion of our time in our adult lives is spent at work. The association between mental ill-health and deprivation, poor education, poor physical health, low income, and unemployment is well-documented and addressing these inequalities is part of the overall aim to improve the nation’s health.
Mental illness is the leading cause of sickness absence (after minor illnesses) accounting for 17.6 million sick days from a total of 138.7 million in 2015 in the UK, an increase from the previous year, demonstrating the prevalence of mental ill-health in the workplace. Despite the benefits of being in work for people with mental health needs, the employment rate for this group is unacceptably low with only 43% of all people with mental health needs being in employment, compared to 74% of the general population and 65% of people with other health conditions (2016). This contributes to the economic and social cost of mental health conditions, which has been estimated at £105 billion a year – roughly the cost of the entire NHS – taking into consideration health and social care support, loss of output, workforce and the costs to individuals directly.
Research conducted by Mind has found that almost everyone whose lives and ability to work have been affected by mental ill-health consider getting back to work an important part of recovery and the management of their illness. It is widely agreed that employment or meaningful activity can provide a form of structure and focus in which a person can find a sense of achievement, contributing positively to their psychological wellbeing. In addition, there are economic benefits for both the person and society alongside opportunities for people to take part in activities that contribute to their wellbeing, develop relationships and build a social network which can help a person in overcoming their sense of isolation.
An integration of health and employment services is developing with a recognition that employment is good for mental health and health in general, and should therefore be a part of any treatment plan. Work is such an important component of life and community, and therefore it is vital that people with or at risk of developing mental health conditions are provided the support to gain, remain in, or return to employment or meaningful activity. Effective support for people both in and out of work will help build individual resilience and confidence, promoting management of stress, work-related difficulties and mental health conditions.
Association of Mental Health Providers was recently engaged by Public Health England’s Wellbeing and Mental Health team to consider the ways in which effective service provision can better support people with mental health needs to remain in, return to, and find employment. The briefing, due to be published early next year, will provide an overview of ways in which private and public sector employers, organisations, and service providers including the voluntary and community sector, can collaborate to better support people with mental health conditions, as well as provide case studies of best practice.