Businesses and the NHS need to increase support for workers with mental health problems, according to the government’s chief medical officer (CMO), who called for workers with mental ill health to be fast tracked for treatment.
Dame Sally Davies said that with the number of working days lost to stress, depression and anxiety increasing by 24% since 2009, employers should look at simple changes to help people with mental illness stay in work by offering flexible working hours and making early and regular contact with employees on sick leave.
The annual report on the nation’s mental health, released on 9 September, found the yearly cost of mental illness to the economy is estimated in the region of £70 to £100bn and was responsible for 70m working days lost last year.
Davies called on the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to analyse the cost-benefit of prioritising treatment for working people, fast-tracking access for those who may fall out of employment due to mental illness.
“The costs of mental illness to the economy are astounding,” Davies said. “I urge commissioners and decision-makers to treat mental health more like physical health. The WHO model of mental health promotion, mental illness prevention and treatment and rehabilitation should be adopted in public mental health in England.
“Anyone with mental illness deserves good quality support at the right time. 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.”
The report also found that 75% of people with diagnosable mental illness receive no treatment at all. The CMO reinforced calls for parity of funding with the acute sector for mental health services and for waiting time targets for mental health services to be developed by NHS England.
Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “We warmly welcome the chief medical officer’s report, which is full of insights, key facts, and sensible conclusions.”
“We endorse the CMO’s call for employment becoming a routine outcome indicator for mental health services – an outcome that has real world relevance and is simple to collect,” he added. “We also 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.”
Mental health charity Mind welcomed the fact the important report focused on mental health, but expressed concern about the proposal to fast track workers for treatment.
The organisation’s chief executive Paul Farmer said: “While the chief medical officer suggests looking into fast tracking people with mental health problems who are in work for health services, we feel it is essential that everyone with a mental health problem gets timely access to the treatment they need, whether in or out of work.”
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