Global report calls on UK to tackle mental ill health at work

Brain drawn on chalkboard with plasters

Mental ill health costs the UK around £70 billion every year – roughly the equivalent of 4.5% of GDP – in lost productivity, benefit payments and healthcare expenditure, a major report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has concluded.

The report, Mental health and work: United Kingdom, recommended better policies and practices by employers and the health system are needed to help people deal with mental health issues and get back to work.

Controversially, it also argued it could be beneficial for the Government to make its new Health and Work Service (HWS) mandatory for employers and to put in place a system of sanctions for firms that fail to use it or support their employees adequately.

The report calculated that around one million claimants on employment and support allowance, and as many on jobseeker’s allowance and other working-age benefits, had a mental disorder such as anxiety and depression that was damaging their prospects of finding work.

“The majority of benefit claimants with mental health problems need a combination of health and employment interventions to improve their chances of finding a suitable job,” the report stated.

“Positive changes are also taking place to inform general practitioners about common mental disorders and return-to-work issues, but more systematic action in dealing with workplace matters is needed through a revised training curriculum.”

It recommended that UK authorities:

  • ensure that the new HWS is implemented quickly “and universally”, with a strong focus on mental health and those still in work and with much stronger involvement of employers;
  • increase the attention to mental health and its effect on employability and work capacity in all parts of the welfare system;
  • increase resources and “refine financial incentives” for employment service providers to ensure better employment outcomes for customers with mental health problems;
  • build on recently improved integration of health and employment services to make sure that integrated health and employment interventions for those with mental health issues are widely available; and
  • further expand access to psychological therapies for those with a common mental disorder.

Mental health campaigners broadly welcomed the report. But Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said it highlighted the importance of employees being able to access specialist support, whether through the new service or elsewhere.

“Early intervention is key to supporting good mental health, and the new [HWS] is an opportunity to help individuals get the right support at the right time. For the service to be effective, however, we need to see case managers with expertise in mental health who are able to recognise the impact a complex, fluctuating condition can have on somebody’s ability to work,” he said.

In a separate development, in January the Government set out a mental health “action plan” designed to help the one person in four who will suffer from a mental health problem at some point in their life.

In a recent press release, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that it was time to bring mental health “out of the shadows”, make mental health “matter” and for mental ill health to be given the same priority as physical ill health.

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