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Employers urged to protect mental health

One worker in six has a mental health problem, costing the UK £30bn a year

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Mental ill health in employees is costing the UK economy £30bn every year, claims the Government. It wants employers to take more action to improve their staff’s mental health, and society as a whole to help reduce the stigma of mental illness.

Nick Clegg and care services minister Paul Burstow said that depression, anxiety and other mental ill health cost British businesses more than £1000 per employee per year – largely through staff absence or underperformance. The total costs of mental ill health across England are thought to be above £100bn a year.

The Deputy Prime Minister and his colleague have suggested three steps that employers could take to improve their employees’ health, increase productivity and reduce these costs:

  • making a public commitment, from top to bottom of the organisation, to end mental health discrimination
  • training a number of people in mental health awareness, just as some are trained in first aid
  • asking the free Health for Work Adviceline for professional support in occupational health, and for well-being advice, so that ill employees can remain in work or return as soon as possible.

In 2010, 72% of workplaces had no formal mental health policy, and 23% of managers could not name a single mental health condition. But companies that have developed a mental wellbeing strategy have found that it reduced sickness absence because of mental ill health, and increased the return-to-work rate after long absences, said the Department of Health.

Nick Clegg said: “Employers are well placed to recognise warning signs and signpost their staff to support.

“70 million working days are lost as a result of mental health issues every year, costing business £1000 every year for each employee. Managing mental health at work well can save around 30% of these costs – businesses cannot afford not to take mental health seriously.”

Paul Burstow added: “I am delighted with the support [the framework] has from across the mental health sector who have worked so hard on producing this with us.”

Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said: “The Health and Social Care Act has enshrined in law the duty to give mental health a fair deal, and grant it the same importance as physical health.

“Last year’s mental health strategy was very welcome and we look forward to using the implementation framework and working with a range of organisations to ensure that it is brought to life.”

Organisations that offer employers training on mental health include: Mental Health First Aid, which aims to increase the mental health literacy of the whole population, aiming to train one in every ten adults in England; Mind, which provides a free online resource bank of information for employers and bespoke in-house training; Centre for Mental Health, which provides workplace training that gives line managers a basic knowledge and skills in first responses to depression and anxiety in the workplace; the Health and Safety Executive.

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