Being in a productive and supportive work environment is linked to better mental health. However, those experiencing mental health problems are often either excluded from the workplace or not supported appropriately when in work, according to new guidance from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
As many as one in six people of working age are diagnosed with a mental health condition. Mental health problems are a leading cause of absence from work, but ‘good’ work can improve overall wellbeing. This is achieved by improving self-esteem, feeling useful, building a routine, and importantly, avoiding poverty, which adversely impacts health in many ways.
‘Good’ work should offer standard benefits such as job security, an appropriate wage, positive work/life balance, and opportunities for career progression as well as supportive mental health and wellbeing policies. These practices should support employees with existing mental health disorders while minimising the risk of developing issues with mental health and well-being.
This includes flexible working policies, use of appropriate reasonable adjustments to help people maintain employment and access to counselling and support services as needed.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for better support for people with mental health problems to find, return to, and remain in good work, and for employers and Government to recognise the valuable contribution these people make to the workforce.
Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:
“We all need to do more if the workplace is to consistently play a positive role in a person’s mental health and wellbeing. We know that issues such as insecure work and unemployment can have a disproportionate impact on the wellbeing of people with mental health conditions.
“Psychiatrists and occupational therapists can play a key role between employers and patients, ensuring staying in good work is seen as an important outcome of treatment. We must put in place better support for people with mental health problems to find, return to, and remain in good work and for employers and Government to recognise the valuable contribution these people make to the workforce.”
For some people with mental illnesses, work won’t be an option due to the severity of their condition; it’s important that they are supported via health, welfare and other relevant state systems.
However, for many others, appropriate reasonable adjustments and support can help them to return and stay in employment. Employers have a responsibility to offer these adjustments, and to prevent and minimise the risk of work being a cause of problems with mental health and well-being.
Professor Neil Greenberg, immediate past Chair of the Occupational Psychiatry Special Interest Group at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:
“There is a pressing need to review and overhaul our nation’s approach to occupational health. We need to ensure that more is done to help people experiencing poor mental health to stay in, or find, good work. It’s not good enough to wait for mental health problems to interfere with people’s ability to work, instead employers should find ways to prevent them, or at least minimise their impact.
“People with mental health problems are already an important part of the workforce, and they deserve reasonable adjustments and support to ensure work has a positive impact on their well-being.”
The new guidance published by the Royal College Psychiatrists on occupational health sets out recommendations for the government, NHS, psychiatrists, and employers to provide better support so that work can consistently make a positive contribution to a person’s overall wellbeing.