Mental health – it’s everyone’s business

 In Blog, CEO's blog

The Prime Minister is going to set out her vision for improving mental health and many would argue that it is about time the issue got such high profile. 1 in 4 Londoners experience at least one diagnosable mental disorder in any given year and £1.9 billion is lost each year in London to reduced productivity arising from mental ill health. A report by the GLA in 2014 estimated that the wider impacts of mental ill health result in £26 billion each year in total economic and social costs in London, and £2bn is spent in London on mental health and care services for adults of working age each year. So leaving aside the personal and family cost, there is a sound business and economic case for doing more to help.

It was good to see that the Prime Minister is including the role of employers rather than just the statutory health and social care services. It is widely recognised and evidenced that work lies at the root of mental wellbeing for most people, and this applies at all levels of seniority.

Employers need to be recognised for the great things they are doing already. Many ELBA members are also members of City Mental Health Alliance, a group of organisations committed to getting mental health elevated to be a boardroom issue and to supporting the mental wellbeing of workers in the same way that physical health is treated. ELBA shares their view that business has a leading role to play. There are some great examples of initiatives taken by employers to take away the stigma of disclosing mental health issues, in training line managers to be able to deal with issue better, and in boosting expertise in HR departments. The more advanced employers also have support services to get behind individual members of staff who experience difficulty. It’s all aimed at keeping the employee in work – where they can continue to be productive and where they have the best chance of getting back on track.

However, this excellent practice tends to be confined to the largest employers and we need to spread good practice to those who are less well equipped. Businesses themselves should play the major role in spreading good practice about awareness raising, training and dealing with issues around stigma. When it comes to dealing with individual employees who are experiencing difficulty, employers need expert services that can respond quickly and which will support both the worker and the business. The aim must be to retain the employee in work. ELBA is finding that businesses struggle to find such services.  As a consequence, the outcome can be that the individual tumbles out of employment and the costs to the public purse then kick in, as well as the lost productivity for the employer and the personal cost. There is a clear business, financial and human case for better prevention services.

The other part that employers can play is in recruiting unemployed people who are recovering from mental ill health. Employers are increasingly familiar with employing former army veterans, ex-offenders and young people who need a second chance – and they do this on the grounds of their talent and potential rather than from social conscience. We need to get to a position where those recovering from mental ill-health are treated the same. After all, if we approached an employer with a candidate who was recovering from a bad skiing accident, there would be no eyebrows raised. There are some great pilot Individual Placement Scheme (IPS) services which give individual support to employers and individuals as they get back into work, and they need to be made more widely available.

A well-resourced, high quality retention and re-recruitment service working with employers would undoubtedly be expensive- but if we look again at that £2bn we are currently spending on services to support those with mental ill health, then there is clearly a case to be made for putting in place services which would result in an overall saving, and also keep a lot of people in work, being productive and being a lot happier than they otherwise would be.

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