Helping people with mental health problems into employment

An estimated 300,000 people lose their job every year because of a mental health problem. Many wanted to and could have remained in employment had they been given the right support. 

I recently spoke at a CBI event to welcome the launch of Front of Mind, their new good practice guidance which helps employers improve health and wellbeing in the workplace. I also helped launch the free, online CIPD People Managers Guide to Mental Health. 

People with mental health conditions can make a valuable contribution in the workplace. We need real cultural change in every local workplace to prevent valued colleagues leaving a job they love because of mental health problems. 

For employers this can feel daunting. The mental health charity, Mind, found that while employers want to make mental health a priority, a third don’t know where to go for information or guidance. 

That’s exactly why practical resources like Front of Mind are so important. Highlighting examples from UK employers that are already leading the way, the guidance shows that successful businesses are taking key three steps: prioritising health and wellbeing from the top, targeting action towards early interventions and embedding good health and wellbeing in workplace culture. 

Not only does Front of Mind offer practical tips for employers, it also demonstrates the business case for making progress on workplace mental health. 

While the human suffering of losing a job is well understood, the impact of mental health issues for UK employers is less well known, costing between £33 billion and £42 billion every year. Clearly, making mental health a priority in the workplace is not just the right thing to do – it also makes good business sense. 

We don’t expect employers to do this on their own. Government has an important role to play in supporting people with a mental health condition. We’ve made good progress, with a range of support on offer. NHS spending on mental health increased to a record £11.86 billion last year, with a further investment of £1 billion by 2020/21. 

While there is much more to do, we have seen more investment in mental health services here, including specialist perinatal mental services and those for young people. Recruitment has started for staff at the new children and adolescent residential mental health centre, Sowenna in Bodmin.  

On employment support, the DWP is investing £115 million in partnership with the NHS, more than doubling the number of Employment Advisers in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Services. Our new Work and Health Programme is investing £500 million in tailored employment support, delivered by PLUSS in Cornwall it is helping disabled people and those with health conditions into a job. And our Access to Work scheme has a specialised mental health support service which has supported over 12,000 people. More than 90% of people who have used the service were still in their job after six months. 

The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has secured £465,000 of Government funding to help local businesses recruit and retain people with disabilities and long-term health conditions. 

The Cornwall Work and Health Beacon Project is the first of its kind in the UK and aims to widen the pool of talent and experience available to employers, creating opportunities for local people and helping to tackle skills shortages. 

The project will work with businesses to co-create solutions and build their confidence to employ and retain people with disabilities and long-term health conditions, and ensure they have the right support and information available to them. 

In Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly there are almost 50,000 working age people whose day-to-day activities are limited by a long-term illness or disability. This is over 15% of the working age population, and well above the national average. 

The positive links between work and health are well proven and the Government is committed to supporting more disabled people into work. The LEP has already done some excellent work in this area and I want to encourage all local senior managers and business leaders to make a real, tangible commitment to improving workplace culture around mental health. This isn’t an issue for other businesses to deal with, or something we can leave HR to worry about. The leaders of any organisation are pivotal in shaping its culture and exemplary behaviour has to start at the top. 

My vision is of a society where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential and no one loses their job because of poor mental health. It’s now time for every leader in every sector to take responsibility for creating an environment in which people feel able to talk about their mental health condition and get the help they need to thrive at work. 

First published in the Falmouth Wave Fabruary edition