The Public Accounts Committee recently revealed that NHS budget pressures are leaving mental health services critically underfunded. Mental health has been regarded as a 'Cinderella service', receiving roughly 13% of the NHS budget despite issues making up a quarter of cases. Money ring-fenced for investment in mental health care is being channeled into simply maintaining other NHS services. This is despite a recent report that found only a quarter of people who need mental health services currently have access to them.
Of these statistics young women are the most affected by common mental health issues, with one in five women reporting a common mental disorder such as anxiety and depression in 2014, compared with one in eight men.
Given the lack of funding for the provision of mental health services within the NHS, there is an overwhelming need for employers to take a more proactive role in supporting people with poor mental health. We can no longer look to the NHS as a catch all. If businesses fail to introduce necessary support networks, productivity will suffer.
Simple measures can help catch those in need before more complex issues arise. This can prevent suffering for the individual and prolonged absence for the employer.
For organisations with no mental health policy in place, a simple first step is to introduce a generic risk assessment. Through an anonymous survey, it is possible to identify departments or teams that are at high risk of common mental health problems such as stress and anxiety. This can be followed up with individual risk assessments. By implementing this process, it not only helps to identify high risk areas, but is also shown to trigger conversations in the office, removing the stigma attached to mental health.
Providing access to support early on and proactively using early intervention services can significantly reduce the length of workplace absence. Employers can intervene in a number of ways when there are signs that an employee may be struggling with stress, anxiety, or another long term mental health condition.
Training members of staff to provide mental health first aid or crisis counselling is an important first step. In the same way that offices have a designated first aider, mental health first aid can help with recognition of crucial warning signs, and subsequently how to provide help and reassurance with guidance towards the right support services.
Prevention trumps intervention. Employers can promote good mental health by offering resilience training. Building psychological resilience is increasingly popular and helps people to adapt to stress and adversity, allowing them to better manage their own mental health by giving them the tools to do so. Resilience allows people to utilise their strengths to cope and recover from problems and challenges, which may include; work issues, job loss, financial problems, illness, divorce or bereavement.
Data from FirstCare shows that stress caused by work is reported at 11.4%, while personal stress is reported at 88.6%. However, while most stress is caused by personal reasons, it is also taken into the workplace. As a result, employees may become overwhelmed by negative experiences, and experience more psychological distress which impacts on their work.
We know that the mental health of the UK is collectively worsening and there is no longer capacity within the NHS to address this properly. The cost of absence due to poor mental health is increasing as a result. In 2012, UK businesses lost an average of £854 per employee, and that figure has since risen to £942 in 2016. Employers need to take a more proactive role to promote good mental health within their organisations, both for the wellbeing of their workforce and the bottom line.