We often hear of the cost to the economy associated with those times in life when we're unwell, be it physically or mentally, and unable to work as a result. There is increasing awareness of the importance of good mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. This week, the Mental Health Foundation has taken the conversation one step further, launching a report with employee benefits specialists Unum, and in doing so, bringing together the first analysis of the positive contribution that people living with mental health problems make to the economy.
For this report, Oxford Economics estimated that people living with mental health problems contributed £226 billion gross value to UK GDP in 2015 - 12.1% of the country's economic output. This is nine times more than the cost of mental health problems to economic output - an estimated £25 billion in foregone gross value added to the UK economy because people with mental health problems could not join the labour force, were less productive at work, took sick days or required informal carers to leave employment for them.
Mental health is a universal asset - for individuals, organisations and society as a whole. We all have mental health and as with our physical health, challenges in life that can harm our mental health, and there are also protective factors and steps we can take to manage the times when our resilience is challenged.
We all take our mental health state to work and find it affected by the circumstances we find there. There is enormous untapped potential for most workplaces to contribute positively to mental health. Getting this right could also produce substantial benefits for businesses, getting the most out of workforce talent and improving the lives of millions of individuals at work.
Disclosure is a key issue in workplace mental health. We need people to feel safe and comfortable in disclosing distress and we must recognise that this is not currently the case in all workplaces. Of the respondents to our survey, only half who had been diagnosed with a mental health problem in the last five years had chosen to disclose it to an employer in that period. Of those, just over half had a mainly positive experience of doing so. The more we can create a supportive culture, the more we will give employees the confidence to open up about an experience of mental ill-health when they experience it. A common cause of people not disclosing was fear or experience of discrimination or harassment, showing that we still have some distance to travel in addressing stigma.
Through engaging with businesses and workplaces, we can take steps to minimise the chances of mental health problems developing for people in general; for people who, for various reasons, face higher risks; and for people where problems are already present or starting to emerge.
This research points out that businesses are right to be concerned about mental health at work - with discrimination, fear and shame in play, it is very hard for the massive potential of mental health as an asset to be realised. It is time this changed. The report calls on British businesses to rise to one of the defining challenges of our time and create a culture in which mental health is valued: where disclosure is encouraged, support is present, and everyone feels that their work and the benefits they receive contribute to their wellbeing.