Employers outraged by mental health slur

Employers groups have hit back at government claims that many are “decades out of date” when it comes to dealing with mental health issues in the workplace.

Last week, the government launched Action on Stigma, a campaign to improve employers’ attitudes towards the mentally ill.

Jim Murphy, minister for employment and welfare reform, said research showed that almost half of UK employers believed there were difficulties in employing a person with clinical depression. This figure rose to almost three-quarters with regard to schizophrenia, illustrating just how little attitudes had changed.

“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.

But Steve Walter, health and safety environment adviser at the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, said Murphy’s comments were a “sweeping generalisation” and unhelpful.

“There is still a lot more work to be done in terms of removing stigma and managing stress, but it is an unfair appraisal to say employers are in the backwater on this issue,” he said.

A CBI spokesman said its figures showed the vast majority of employers offered rehabilitation support when staff became ill.

“Employers, and especially smaller firms, need more support and advice in helping employees with mental ill health,” he said.

Claire Ashby, a spokeswoman for mental health charity Mind, said the barriers of discrimination in the workplace were immense, and dismantling them would take an “enormous effort”.

“We would like to see a stronger commitment to tackling discrimination, for example, by requiring public authorities to ask contractors to comply with mental wellbeing standards,” she said.

Disability rights commission calls for action

Government efforts to move people off benefit and into work risk failure unless employers get more support when recruiting staff with mental health issues.

The Disability Rights Commission chairman Bert Massie said: “If employers had better advice and support, they would have less fear about employing someone with a mental health problem and employees would be less fearful of disclosing their condition.”

Barometer question

Are employers’ attitudes decades out of date when it comes to mental health issues? Vote online.

By Michael Millar and Emma Ann Hughes

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