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More needs to be done to keep workers with mental health problems in work, says CMO

More needs to be done to help people with mental health problems stay in work, according to the chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies.

Cost of the problem

In her recent report on public mental health, she said that three-quarters of people struggling with mental health issues received no treatment.

The cost of the problem to the economy is increasing, she said, with the number of working days lost to stress, depression and anxiety rising by almost a quarter since 2009.

Around 70 million days were lost to mental illnesses last year, meaning that the economy lost between £70 billion and £100 billion.

She noted that 60 to 70 per cent of people with common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety are in work, 'so it is crucial that we take action to help those people stay in the employment to benefit their own health as well as the economy'.

Taking action

Most employers accept the importance of keeping their staff happy and healthy - but actually achieving that is not so easy.

It demands more than a few piecemeal initiatives and posters, experts say. Workplaces need to bring mental health support into the heart of organisational culture.

In supportive workplaces, employees feel able to talk openly about mental health issues without fear of stigma.

Employers should be careful to respond in a way that doesn't contribute to the problem, but gives security through reassurance, and by making adjustments to working arrangements and the workplace environment where appropriate.

Managers should be trained to understand how mental illness might present in the workplace and understand their role in facilitating retention of employees with mental illness, the report said.

Acas publications and services

Acas has published the pdf icon Promoting positive mental health in the workplace [386kb], which aims to help employers tackle the stigma surrounding mental health, offering practical measures to improve wellbeing and mental health, and to build supportive working environments.

Acas can also help you review your health and wellbeing arrangements and find ways to reduce organisational stress. See Stress: how Acas can help for more details.

Practical Acas training is also available on Mental Health Awareness for Employers, Stress, Managing absence at work and essential Skills for supervisors.  

For free, impartial advice on any employment relations issue, visit Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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