For many people across the UK, work is a major part of their lives. It’s where we spend a majority of our time, build friendships and where we make our livelihoods. Workplaces at their best can offer stability and support. However, for many, they can be a source of stress and anxiety.
In the UK, more people are in work with a mental health condition than ever before. This is affecting people’s working lives in every sector and in every workplace. This country is facing a mental health crisis, we must tackle the root of the problem, and provide support to those who are experiencing a mental health problem.
Unfortunately, the number of people admitted to treatment under the Mental Health Act has risen year on year. While the number of inpatient beds for adults with mental health problems in England and Wales fell by 15% from 2012-2016, and the number of trained staff fell by 20%. This is as a result of severe cuts to mental health services over the past eight years. With mental health trusts taking a real terms £105million cut in 2016-2017 from five years previous.
Without the support they need, many working people are struggling; taking time off work, being less productive and some are even leaving work. In any one year, roughly five million workers will suffer from a mental health condition, that’s one in six workers. Last year, the total number of working days lost due to work-related stress, anxiety and depression reached 9.9million days and 300,000 of those suffering with long term mental health conditions left employment.
The cost of mental health conditions on the economy is £99billion every year. Mental health conditions account for 18% of all NHS spending, and it puts strain on the charity sector with people using services like the Samaritans increasing by over 58,000 year on year.
Community believe it is vital that employers make tackling mental health a priority in their workplaces. That doesn’t just mean offering counselling, tackling the problem calls for a more wide ranging response. Workplaces must be a supportive environment, with employers changing employment and recruitment policies, offering mental health first aid training, and so much more.
We’re working with employers in every sector of the UK economy to help them do this. By signing up to the Community Mental Health Charter employers commit to; tackle stigma, challenge discrimination, promote equality of opportunity, encourage wellbeing and raise awareness. A number of our biggest employers have already signed the Charter and are working to improve their workplaces; from Liberty Speciality Steels to Serco Custodial Services.
Community is calling on employers across the UK to run mental health first aid training for employees. We have taken the lead and run a session in every region and nation of the UK for our workplace representatives, so they can support their friends and colleagues at work.
We recognise that to have a lasting impact, change must be structural. That’s why we’re supporting Natasha Devon’s campaign to have the Health and Safety at Work Act updated so that all employers have an obligation to provide mental health first aiders – regardless of whether workplaces are unionised or not – and independent of the size of the business. Employers are already required to have medical first aiders, which shows recognition of the seriousness of physical injuries at work, we believe that mental health at work should be taken just as seriously. Sign the petition here.
World Mental Health Day is vitally important to raise awareness of mental health in this country, to assure people they are not alone and to lobby for better mental health services. However, it’s important that mental health never falls off the agenda, that we continue lobbying for important changes to legislation and keep pushing for mental health to be a priority in every workplace. Community is working to do just that.
Roy Rickhuss is general secretary of Community