Why mental health is an issue for everyone

Mental health and work have been in the news this week after Labour announced plans to help people with mental illness back to work.

Woman holds box in an office with a hand to her head indicating redundancy


For some time, mental health has been a growing concern in the workplace – and out. The pandemic and the cost of living crisis have made things worse, with people having endured all kinds of stress and bereavement in the last three years. Some of that stress is work-related, for instance, linked to intensity of work and workloads, which have become worse due to the labour shortage; some of it is life-related.

In some cases mental health issues are leading to people dropping out of work entirely. ONS statistics, for instance, show ill health has been a major cause of people dropping out of the workforce since Covid – that is not just physical ill health, but also mental health, with the young particularly affected. Yet many employers are going backwards on mental health support, thinking that, with Covid restrictions having been lifted ,it is not necessary. There has been so much around about homeworking causing mental health issues – and there is an issue there for some – that many employers think that we are now past that. That’s a big mistake because Covid is going to have a long tail and mental health at work is not just about some people feeling more isolated when they work from home [although some are much less stressed as a result].

We can see that when we look at our children. The number of children having mental health issues due to Covid is worrying, with a rise in eating disorders, panic attacks and anxiety disorders being seen across the UK. Managing children with mental health issues – the worry when they can’t leave the house or feel panicky at school – has a knock-on impact on parents’ mental health. I’ve seen it in my own family. It’s also difficult to focus at work when you are worrying about a teenager at home and anxious. The mental health of young people, already low before Covid, is an issue for employers because this is the workforce of the future. Mental health is a societal problem which we are all going to have to grapple with. What is it about how we live – and work – that is making people unwell? How do we address it?

Labour this week unveiled plans to help people with mental health issues get back to work or not drop out in the first place. It looks like an extension of their plans for older workers who have dropped out early and have health problems. The party is promising personalised support offered through treatment centres. The idea is that the sooner you can get people back in work – or stop them dropping out – the better for their long-term recovery. The policy was floated during a visit by the shadow health spokesperson to a centre in Nottingham which offers wraparound treatment, benefits and employment support. Increasingly, health and employment are being linked. Business for Health is a business-led coalition supporting long-term sustainable innovation and investment in preventative health and care. It sees prevention as the best way forward for a healthier society, with good quality employment being key.

The focus has to be on good quality work, picking up on the Matthew Taylor report which has been discarded despite the obvious need for it. A healthier society is a better one, for everyone.

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