More needs to be done to help people with mental illness stay in work, according to chief medical officer (CMO) Dame Sally Davies. It does – and it has to happen quickly:
When Dame Sally published her annual report into mental health earlier this month, the focus on the workplace was welcome, although the figures made for uncomfortable reading.
It highlighted that about 70 million working days were lost to mental illness last year, which cost the economy up to £100 billion. Additionally, the number of working days lost to stress, depression and anxiety has increased by 24% since 2009. The latter figure is particularly worrying; showing how stressed employees have become due to the on-going economic downturn and effects of austerity.
It also shows that many employers still do not make mental health a priority in the workplace, nor take early action to prevent any problems escalating. Of course, there are many ways that employers can – and should – take effective and cheap action.
Even more worrying is that only 25% of adults with depression and anxiety get any treatment. The CMO reinforced calls for parity of funding with the acute sector for mental health services and for waiting time targets for mental health services to be developed by NHS England to address this. Both of these are urgently needed and will help to address some of the problems faced by mental health services, although neither will be a panacea.
While some of the CMO’s ideas, such as fast-tracking access to treatment for working people who may fall out of work due to mental illness, should stay as just that – access to treatment should be equal for all – the bulk of what Dame Sally recommended is eminently sensible.
As 60-70% of people with common mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, are in work, having a job can be a crucial part of managing their condition and staying well. Likewise help for people with mental ill health to get into work is important.
However, with a general election coming next May, it is unlikely that much action will be taken by MPs in the wake of the CMO’s report. But this should be something that is an election issue for all parties. Talk of a mental health crisis has been growing for some time and there are few signs that it is being addressed.
But without change, the mental health system, which is already creaking, will continue to limp along and the individuals who use services – who are so often just reduced to statistics – may not get the treatment they need when they need it to get better. And that must not continue.