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More must to be done to help people with mental illness stay in work

9 September 2014 Sue Radford

The rising number of working days lost to mental illness creates huge personal suffering and huge costs to the economy. About 70 million working days were lost to mental illness last year – an increase of 24% since 2009. Sickness leave, benefit payments and lost productivity cost the UK economy between £70 and £100 billion each year.

In her annual report, published today, Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies says more must be done to help people with mental illness stay in work. “One of the stark issues highlighted in this report is that 60 to 70% 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 employment to benefit their own health as well as the economy.”

People with a history of mental illness are at greater risk of unemployment, job insecurity, early retirement, absenteeism and low salaries, while stress, bullying and other negative experiences at work can exacerbate mental disorders. Employment generates income, brings social status, shapes social roles and is a major factor in self-image and self-esteem.1

Dame Sally recommends employers offering flexible working hours and encouraging early and regular contact from managers during sick leave, to help people with mental illness stay in work.

This echoes recommendations in the policy report Schizophrenia: Time to commit to Policy Change. Unemployment is high among people with schizophrenia but supported employment interventions can produce substantial savings and reduce the risk of hospitalization.

“We endorse the CMO’s call for employment becoming a routine outcome indicator for mental health services,” said Professor Sir Simon Wessely, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. “We agree that more support is needed to keep those who are at risk of losing their jobs from joining the ranks of the long term sick.”

1. Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2013, Public Mental Health Priorities: Investing in the Evidence, p152. 

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