The Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO) annual report focusing on the mental health of the nation, which was published on 9 September 2014, made 14 recommendations to improve public mental health services. Specifically, the report makes a number of recommendations relating to mental illness and work.
70 million working days were lost in the UK to mental illness in 2013 at a cost of £70-100 billion to the economy. In light of this, more needs to be done to help people with mental illness stay in work. The number of working days lost to the most common mental health issues (stress, depression and anxiety) has increased by 24% since 2009, and the number of working days lost to serious mental illness has doubled.
The CMO has called for NICE to analyse the cost benefit of fast-tracking employees to treatment when they risk falling out of work due to mental illness. It also recommends simple changes to help people with mental illness stay in work by offering flexible working hours. Where staff are off work, employers are urged to make early and regular contact with them in order to make it easier for them to return to work.
Mental health is just as important as physical health, so mental health services need to be valued and the extent of mental illness and the effect it has on sufferers and the people close to them needs to be acknowledged. Mental health isn’t something that ‘happens to other people’. One in four of us will suffer from some form of mental health in any one year, so openness is key.
Fit for Work is a Government-funded initiative designed to support people in work with health conditions and help with sickness absence. GPs, employers and employees can use Fit for Work to access free, expert and impartial work-related health advice through the website and a telephone line, as well as to be referred for a free, professional occupational health consultation, for those who are employed and who have been, or who are likely to be, off work for four weeks or more. Obstacles preventing the employee from returning to work will be identified and the occupational health professional will produce a Return to Work Plan tailored to the employee’s needs.