Last month saw the publication of “Thriving at Work”, the a Government commissioned inquiry into mental health and employment. Among its most startling facts are the reality that at any one time around 15% of people at work are dealing with a mental health condition, and that each year 300,000 people lose their jobs due to long-term mental health problems.
"We developed a culture of openness including a simple working system which prioritises key issues for her, such as the flexibility to attend medical or therapeutic appointments as and when necessary, balanced with the needs of my very busy constituency office."
The human costs are enormous with significant knock-on effects to not just those suffering with mental ill-health but also their family, friends and colleagues. The economic costs are equally vast. Deloiite estimates an annual loss of between £74b and £99b due to lost output, poor productivity, absence, benefit payments, NHS costs and loss of tax revenues.
Separate research recently carried out by the mental health charity Mind shows that 77% of employees have experienced poor mental health at some point in their career. Less than half of people diagnosed with a mental health problem felt able to tell their manager.
This is a major problem. People are far more likely to remain in work if they get the relevant support at crucial times, and continuing to work provides one of the main routes back to better mental health and so better human and economic outcomes.
It is my hope that the proposals in the Stevenson/Farmer report be adopted by all employers and championed by Government at every turn to usher in a new social contract between those with mental health problems, their colleagues, employers and the Government.
This hope springs from my own experience with my team. Despite her outward appearance of confidence and her impressive ability to manage and solve problems, my Parliamentary Office Manager suffers from acute anxiety and depression. She has given me permission to explain how early on into her job she told me of her diagnosis and explained how it can affect her and the impact this can have on her at work. Her openness allowed us to think about how best she could manage her mental health issues and balance them with what is a highly responsible, public-facing job.
We developed a culture of openness including a simple working system which prioritises key issues for her, such as the flexibility to attend medical or therapeutic appointments as and when necessary, balanced with the needs of my very busy constituency office. As a result, she has been able to carry on working as a highly responsible and highly prized member of my team for the past seven years.
I am very grateful that she was so open with me because in watching her work I have seen how the challenges she is living with give her a phenomenal ability to connect and deal with everyone she meets in a professional capacity, especially my constituents, in an empathetic and effective way.
I would not purport that our situation is an example of best practice by any means, but we have created a system which works for us as employer and employee. It is this experience which means I wholeheartedly support this report’s drive to strike up a new partnership with employers to support mental health in the workplace.
I encourage every organisation in the UK to read the report and implement the Core Standards. I will be meeting businesses in my own constituency in the coming weeks to see how they can do just that, because improving support for mental health and well-being at work is key to eroding stigma and righting the injustices that people with mental health problems face.