I’ve just started a new round of therapy. Last time I had a choice of Monday mornings or Friday afternoons for six months; now I’ve been allocated an hour at 15.30 on Wednesdays for sixteen weeks.
'After just one session I’ve realised that planning activities on a Wednesday evening is going to be a no-go too.'
I’ve blocked out the time on my calendar, but after just one session I’ve realised that planning activities on a Wednesday evening is going to be a no-go too.
I was so drained and exhausted that lying on the sofa eating takeaway was all I was good for. A news report from Yemen nearly broke me.
Maintaining paid work
Even though meetings with my case manager leave me tired, in the five months since my group sessions finished, I’d forgotten how mentally demanding therapy is.
I’ve written about this before for Mental Health Today, bemoaning the difficulties of juggling time and emotional hangovers with paid employment.
'I’ve now met a dozen more fellow mental health sufferers and again just one of them is in a full-time permanent position'
That post appeared in January. At that stage, despite two months in a day facility, I’d met only one person still officially in full-time work. She was on long-term sick leave from her NHS job.
I’ve now met a dozen more fellow mental health sufferers and again just one of them is in a full-time permanent position; the shift work that her job involves gave her more flexibility around day time appointments than most.
Maybe the situation would be different if I surveyed the client list of a private psychologist or therapist rather than basing my observations on a small group of NHS patients in an economically deprived Midlands town.
Yet although my survey is entirely unscientific, I doubt that it’s atypical.
Leaving a career
Aside from the two I’ve mentioned, those I’ve met have been retired, long term unemployed, on disability benefits, in part-time posts or students. Among them have been several who, like me, left their full-time job – and sometimes their entire career – when their mental health deteriorated.
Furthermore, there is now evidence to back up the findings I’ve stumbled upon.
The theme of last month’s World Mental Health Awareness Day was mental health and the workplace, and this was followed later in October by an independent review by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (ISOH). This is a leading chartered professional body for those responsible for health and safety in the workplace.
The report, Thriving at Work, found that every year, 300,000 people in the UK with long-term mental health issues lose their jobs.
These are the people in the groups, workshops and care facilities that I’ve been in, and many more besides.
Step up to the mark
In response to these figures, the ISOH called on employers of every size and in every sector to ‘step up to the mark’ on mental health.
They also made forty recommendations to the government, including the creation of an online health and wellbeing portal where employers could access tools and guidance and legislative changes to better protect staff with mental health problems.
Thriving at Work highlighted the economic impact of poor mental health, estimating it costs the UK economy a massive £99 billion per year. At the same time, it argues, the action required to support employees with long-term mental health difficulties in resuming their roles doesn’t need to be costly; on the contrary, for every £1 spent, the average return was £4.20.
This economic case is undoubtedly important for persuading employers and politicians to take these recommendations on board, but for the employees themselves this is not just about the money (although that of course is a big factor).
Work is crucial to one’s dignity and identity.
Let’s hope that as a society we do not continue to waste the talent that is sitting in waiting areas and therapy rooms up and down the country.