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December 8, 2009

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SME advice line part of mental-health strategy

A new occupational-health advice line for small businesses is to be

piloted as part of a wide-ranging government strategy to improve

support for people with mental-health conditions.

The employer helpline pilots, which have opened in seven regions of England and across the whole of Scotland and Wales, have been set up in response to a review, commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and led by Dr Rachel Perkins, into what measures could be put in place to improve support for unemployed people who have mental-health conditions.

Psychological ill health costs the economy between £30bn and £40bn a year through lost production, sickness pay, NHS treatment, and the personal and financial costs associated with being out of work. One in six people are reported to have a mental-health problem, and it is the second most common factor in deaths among men aged between 14 and 44.

The Perkins review found that many employers are reluctant to employ people with mental-health conditions because of concerns that they might be unable to cope, or take a lot of time off sick. Dr Perkins’ team acknowledged that good management resources already exist but underlined the need to bring them together in a coherent fashion, so that employers have easy access to information as and when they need it.

A spokesperson for the Federation of Small Businesses welcomed the advice-line pilots but warned that they must become a “trusted port of call”.

He explained: “The advice lines must allow employers to dip in and out and ask as many questions as they like, without a raft of questions being asked [of them], without marketing issues being raised, and without the likelihood that employer information will be passed on to other agencies. Once it becomes a trusted port of call, word will spread, and after the second and third call for advice, it is more than likely that employers will be happy to share more details, and even invite a visit.”

Other new support measures include the launch of a network of mental-health coordinators in every Jobcentre Plus district to improve coordination of health and employment support at a local level, and improve the employment chances of Jobcentre Plus customers. Ministers are also looking at ways to extend the Government’s Access to Work programme to help more people with mental-health conditions gain and stay in work. It was announced in August that the programme’s fund would be doubled over the next five years, from £69m to £138m.

Paul Framer, chief executive of mental-health charity Mind, who helped carry out the Perkins review, commented: “Unemployment is often painted as a personal failure but, in reality, people with mental-health problems are often let down by employment services, and are often let down by employers who are unwilling to recruit staff they think are ‘more work’.

“This review presents evidence that the best way to get a job is to start the process as soon as possible, using individually tailored support.”

Dr Perkins added: “People with mental-health conditions remain among the most excluded within our society, particularly in the workplace. We know that work improves mental health and well-being, and most people with a mental-health condition would like to be in work and pursue a career.

“The review’s recommendations are wide-ranging and challenging for government. However, at their heart, they set a vision for how employment, health, and social services can better work together to provide coordinated support for people with mental-health conditions.”

Dr Perkins’ review was launched yesterday (7 December), along with two other publications:

  • ‘New Horizons: A shared vision for mental health’, the Government’s over-arching vision for mental health in England, which aims to tackle depression for people of all ages, work to reduce suicides, help excluded groups access support, and tackle the stigma attached to mental illness; and
  • ‘Working our way to better mental health: A framework for action’, which sets out commitments from government and expectations of employers, health-care professionals, organisations, and individuals to improve well-being at work.

Introducing the overall strategy, along with Health Secretary Andy Burnham, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Yvette Cooper said: “We know that work is good for people and that’s why we want to give everyone the support they need to stay in a job, or get back to work. Today, we are giving people with mental-health conditions this support. We are also helping employers understand what they can do to help people stay in their jobs and manage their condition, so that they don’t have to leave work and fall on to benefits at all.”

Dr Perkins review, ‘Realising ambitions: Better employment support for people with a mental-health condition’ is available at

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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