Ruth Mitchell

Employers urged to help mentally ill

People with mental illnesses are far less likely to become employed than those with physical disabilities, according to a new report.

The figures, published by the Department of Health, show that only 20% of people with mental health problems have jobs, whereas 65% of the physically disabled population are employed.

The government has launched an initiative aimed at encouraging employers to improve the way they deal with mental health in the workplace. The ‘Action on Stigma’ programme will run for three years, and urges employers to ensure that workers with mental health problems are treated fairly. The Department of Health will work with employers to create a set of voluntary standards which will help improve equality in the workplace. The new standards will help employers to adjust to changes before the new Disability Discrimination Act comes into force in December.

The Department of Health says that many businesses have already taken part in projects designed to make their workplaces more ‘mental health friendly’. These employers have reported lower staff turnover and a reduction in sickness absences. The report says that people with mental health problems have the highest ‘want to work’ rate, with 90% desiring employment, compared to 52% for those with physical disabilities.

Rosie Winterton, Minister for Health, said: “Ignorance and stigma still surround the issue of mental ill-health and when someone does develop a problem, they often do not get the support they need from society to help them recover. “We all have a role to play in helping to tackle this issue. Employers can help by raising awareness of mental health issues amongst staff, supporting those affected and combating discrimination against staff and customers. “This is good for staff and good for employers, who we know will benefit from reduced staff turnover and sickness absences.”

Lord Hunt, Department of Work and Pensions Minister, said: “Work is important and beneficial to our physical and mental well-being. Because of this, it is essential that we remove the barriers that prevent people starting, returning to, or remaining in work. I welcome this initiative, which will make an important contribution to the Government’s strategy to improve health and well-being of the working age population.”

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