In too many workplaces, mental health remains the last taboo – and this needs to change

Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, Virginia Woolf. These are some of history’s greatest names, best-known for their genius and creativity. And rightfully so.

What many people might not know is that they battled with poor mental health at various points in their lives. The taboo of mental ill health kept these struggles from the history books.

I’m heartened to see that in my lifetime we are much more open and willing to talk about mental ill health, with Mental Health Awareness week an opportunity to turn up the volume on these conversations.

But in too many workplaces it remains the last taboo – and this needs to change.

There is a growing body of evidence that good work is good for our health and that being out of work can have a detrimental effect on our health and wellbeing.

The latest employment figures show that there are now 32.3 million people in work – including more than 3.5 million disabled people. There are opportunities for everyone to enjoy the benefits of employment if they are well enough to do so, including those with mental health conditions.

But if we are to feel those benefits, what is equally important is that our workplace provides an environment that supports good mental health.

The theme of this week’s Mental Health Awareness Week is stress. The latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive show that 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, affecting 526,000 workers.

Failure to address poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year – that’s a cost of between £1,205 and £1,560 per employee. This is something which cannot be ignored, and it’s essential that Government and businesses join forces to tackle this taboo.

Already, we’re taking innovative action across employment and health services to ensure support is joined up around people so they get the best possible chance to succeed in work.

We’re more than doubling the number of employment advisers working in the NHS 2019, enabling greater provision of integrated psychological treatment and employment support. And we’re at the forefront in testing different models to join up health and employment support in a range of healthcare settings, for example in GP surgeries and Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services.

On top of this, our Access to Work scheme provides personalised support for people whose disability or health condition affects them in the workplace and can include assistive technology, interpreters and our Mental Health Support Service. This week we reached a milestone of helping 11,000 people. The support helps provide people with tailored employment support and has an extraordinary success rate with 93% of people who have used the service still in their jobs after six months. We’ve developed an enhanced mental health training programme for Jobcentre Plus work coaches too.

But there is more to do. We know that poor mental health affects people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. It doesn’t discriminate, and affects around one in four across their lifetime. That’s why this Government has put improving mental health at the heart of our plans to improve wellbeing, and that’s why we are working with employers to get the support right.

First published on Politics Home 17/05/18