Government initiative aims to transform employers’ ‘outdated’ attitudes towards mental health

A government minister has accused employers of being “decades out of date” when it comes to dealing with mental health issues in the workplace.

The government today announced a new drive to improve employers’ attitudes towards the mentally ill, called ‘Action on Stigma’.

The three-year initiative urges employers to sign up to a set of anti-stigma principles – for example, demonstrating that they have made changes in their work environment and employment practices to ensure people with mental health problems are treated fairly and equally with others.

Minister for employment and welfare reform, Jim Murphy, said surveys showed almost half of employers believe there are difficulties in employing a person with clinical depression, and that increases to almost three-quarters with regard to schizophrenia.

“These attitudes are decades out of date – people with mental health problems today are facing the same kind of attitude from employers that people with a physical disability too often faced in the 1950s and 1960s,” he said. “Attitudes towards mental health in the workplace are changing, but not quickly enough.”

Murphy also announced an overhaul of how mental health would be assessed by the Department for Work and Pensions after a review of the personal capability assessment (PCA) tests found the present system is too heavily weighted on physical disabilities rather than mental ones when assessing inability to work. Four out of 10 incapacity benefits claimants have a mental health condition.

The revised PCA will include a new assessment, looking at what an individual can do and what interventions would help to break down barriers preventing them from working. It will reflect the changing expectations about what work people can do with a relatively minor level of disability.

Figures show that only about 20% of people with severe mental health problems are employed, compared to 65% of people with physical health problems, and 75% of the whole adult population.

However, people with mental health problems have the highest ‘want-to-work rate’, with up to 90% wanting to work, compared to 52% for disabled people generally.

 

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