January 2017 saw prime minister Theresa May announce measures to transform mental health support. She appointed Mind CEO Paul Farmer to create a report, entitled Thriving at Work, on how staff could perform at their best. Farmer’s 200-company strong research is now complete, having found that 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year. This, Farmer pointed out, is at a higher rate than those suffering from poor physical conditions. “Our analysis shows 15 per cent of Brits have symptoms of an existing condition,” he detailed in Thriving at Work. “There is a large annual cost to employers of between £33bn and £42bn – most of which can be attributed to presenteeism. The cost of poor mental health to government sits at around £24bn to £27bn. “This includes costs in providing benefits, falls in tax revenue and costs to the NHS. The cost to the economy is between £74bn and £99bn per year. It could be argued that these costs are the ‘normal’ cost of being alive and doing business.” Ignoring the situation can make things worse for businesses. Sickness absence due to mental health reasons has risen by around five per cent since 2009. But that’s not to say no good news came off the back of the report. Farmer praised the UK’s increasingly good practice. He also set out 40 recommendations that could be adopted by businesses. Unsurprisingly, transparency and communication internally and industry-wide ranked high on his list. He cites online wellbeing portals for the self-employed and SME government support programmes such as Fit for Work as necessary. Revising the employer’s duty in handling mental health and a good working environment are just as vital. Awareness, identification of symptoms and the ability to cope needs to be instilled in staff, be it through training or outside help. Only through these means, Farmer opined, will companies be able to foster a culture of good health. The way we perceive mental health needs to change for that to happen though – as a result of stigma, 35 per cent of Brits think they would be passed for promoted if they had depression. “Thriving at Work is written from the position that the correct way to view mental health is that we all have it and we fluctuate between thriving, struggling and being ill and possibly off work. People with poor mental health including common mental health problems and severe mental illness can be in any of these groups.” According to the BBC’s Katie Silver, the government is considering the recommendations Farmer has put forward for it as well. This includes promoting tax relief for those investing in mental health, clarifying the legal provisions set out in the 2010 Equality Act and increasing protection for those with a mental health condition.
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