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Speaking at the Mad World conference in London, Sir Vince Cable quoted figures from last year’s Stevenson/Farmer review on mental health and work, which revealed mental health costs the UK economy as a whole between £74 billion and £99 billion per year.
“That’s much more than the cost of Brexit,” he told delegates.
Sir Vince then quoted a recent YouGov survey, which was carried out for the Business in the Community group.
The survey found 11% of workers who disclosed a mental health issue subsequently faced disciplinary action, demotion or the sack.
“That’s a shocking figure and a massive deterrent for people to talk about this,” added the Liberal Democrat leader.
“When I was in Government, we were encouraged to take mental wellbeing seriously and I think it’s true to say that the public sector is significantly more advanced than the private sector in this field,” said Sir Vince.
“In the department I headed up, we went to great efforts to encourage the debate around mental illness. And as the business department, we were of the enormous costs that are imposed on the economy as a result of not dealing with mental illness properly.”
Sir Vince added that he regular sees the impact of mental health in his weekly constituency surgeries
“Some of them are young mums in children in multi-storey blocks, who can’t get out and becoming desperate. I also see ex-service people who can’t settle and people whose insecurities are feeding their mental illness. All these problems I encounter on a regular basis.
“I have particularly sympathy because I saw the impact of mental illness on my own family. My mother, when I was about 10, had a major nervous breakdown and was taken off to a mental hospital for a year. My brother was fostered and I was looked after by my Dad. It left a very deep footprint.”
Sir Vince also talked about the mental challenges he has to face with as a politician.
“One is resilience,” he told the event. “I’ve stood for Parliament 10 times. I have won five times and I have lost five times. But to be honest, those challenges were less than when I lost my wife two decades ago to breast cancer. Having to cope with bereavement was more difficult than political losses.
“In my life, the more difficult thing is the day-to-day stress. It is an extraordinarily stressful existence and you have to develop coping mechanisms to deal with it. One day you’re at the top of the world and the next you’re a danger to Britain and you have press photographers in your garden.”
Sir Vince said regular physical exercise, including a weekly ballroom dancing class helped him cope.
“I kept that going when I was in the Cabinet, much to the annoyance of my colleagues and I do a lot of cycling.
“Something I’ve also found enormously helpful is reading novels, either late at night or on the train. I read a very good article this morning in the role fiction plays in helping wellness. When your mind is turbulent and stressed, when you read a book, you are inhabiting someone else’s mind. It’s been the most calming influence I’ve had.”