A total of 300,000 people with a long term mental health problem lose their job every year, a landmark, Government-commissioned report has found.
Mental health also costs businesses £42 billion a year while the overall annual cost to the economy is up to £99 billion, according to the report Thriving At Work, whose authors warn the scale of the problem is greater than they thought.
Theresa May, who commissioned the report in January, reacted by announcing NHS England and the Civil Service would abide by the report’s 40 recommendations, which include routine monitoring of staff’s mental health and a comprehensive plan for it.
The report authors Lord Stevenson and NHS Mental Health Taskforce chair Paul Farmer write: “Our work has revealed that the UK is facing a mental health challenge at work that is much larger than we had thought.
“Not only is there a big human cost of poor mental health at work, there are also knock on impacts for society, the economy and Government. Employers are losing billions of pounds because employers are less productive, less effective, or off sick.”
The report also said 15% of people at work show symptoms of of a mental health condition.
Steve Loft, who was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and a depressive episode while working for Transport for London (TfL), praised his manager for how he reintroduced him to work after he went off.
Loft, who now works for mental health campaigners Time for Change, said: “It was really important to me that my manager kept in contact and gave me updates on what was going on at work as well as listened to me tell him how I was feeling in a caring and non-judgemental way.
“When I returned to work he agreed regular ‘check ins’ to hear how I was settling back into work and if any adjustments were required. This helped build back my confidence in getting back to working efficiently.”
The report praises examples of employers’ good practice.
Aviva has a well-being strategy that includes health checks, nutritional advice, a wellbeing app, mental health support and income protection provided free to all staff. The insurance company has also appointed a senior executive as mental health champion and trained line managers in mental health support.
South Liverpool Homes Housing Association involved its staff in creating a mental health and wellbeing policy. Staff also have mentoring opportunities, a monthly focus on wellbeing. The first question staff are asked at monthly one to ones is: “How is your wellbeing?”
Legal and General runs the Not A Red Card Offence campaign that seeks to “lift the mental health taboo and encourage more conversations in the workplace about mental health”. “It’s OK to have a mental health problem, just like it’s OK to have a physical health problem,” the company said.
Farmer, who is also head of mental health charity Mind, said: “We found that in many workplaces, mental health is still a taboo subject and that opportunities are missed to prevent poor mental health and ensure employees who may be struggling get the support they need.”
Lord Stevenson added: “In light of the demonstrable impact of poor workplace wellbeing on individuals, employers and the UK economy, we are calling on the Government to accept the recommendations in full, and to introduce the core standards in the public sector.
“It’s time for every employer to recognise their responsibilities and affect change, so that the UK becomes a world leader in workplace wellbeing for all staff and in supporting people with mental health problems to thrive at work.”
Our work has revealed that the UK is facing a mental health challenge at work that is much larger than we had thought.
More than half of the estimated cost to businesses is “presenteeism”, when mentally unwell people still come to work and are unproductive as a result of their problem, the report found.
The Government said Civil Service and NHS England employees would now have “guaranteed tailored in-house mental health support”, thanks to the report’s recommendations.
May is also writing to the Confederation of Business Industry, Institute of Directors and Federation of Small Businesses to encourage them to do the same.
“I have made it a priority of this government to tackle the injustice of mental illness,” she said.
“Vital to this is the need to have a comprehensive cross-government plan which transforms how we deal with mental illness not only in our hospitals or crisis centres but in our classrooms, shop floors and communities...
“It is only by making this an everyday concern for everyone that we change the way we see mental illness so that striving to improve your mental health – whether at work or at home – is seen as just as positive as improving our physical wellbeing.”