World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year, providing an opportunity ‘for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide’ according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
If there is an issue that needs to be talked about more at work, it’s mental health. According to the CIPD’s 2016 Absence management survey with Simplyhealth, two in five employers (41%) indicated an increase in reported mental health issues among their employees. Considering that many people don’t feel comfortable enough to disclose their mental ill health to an employer, the prevalence of poor mental well-being could be much higher. The WHO says that more than 300 million people suffer from depression, which is now the leading cause of disability.
On a more positive note, mental health is much further up the workplace agenda than it was a decade ago, and there’s growing recognition by many employers that they need to address psychological, as well as physical, health. The CIPD is working in partnership on several fronts to improve the support and awareness around mental health issues in employment. For example, the CIPD is part of the workplace programme of the Royal Foundation’s Heads Together campaign with mental health charity Mind to end stigma around mental health. We have also contributed to the Prime Minister’s workplace review of mental health, led by Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer CBE, which will be reporting this Autumn. The CIPD believes it’s very important to lead by example in how it translates its purpose to improve work and working lives into its own people management practices; we are therefore proud to be a signatory to the Time to Change Employer Pledge.
Extending the protection for people under the Equality Act
The publication of the Stevenson-Farmer review will hopefully unveil new proposals to further build momentum on this vital agenda. These could pick up on a commitment in the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto to ‘extend Equalities Act protections against discrimination to mental health conditions that are episodic and fluctuating.’ Currently, the definition which protects people against discrimination on grounds of disability relate to a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on someone’s ability to carry out normal daily activities. ‘Long-term’ refers to 12 months or more, but the fact that many mental health conditions like depression or anxiety are fluctuating means that a lot of people experiencing mental ill health may not be protected by the law.
Extending the protections of the Equality Act 2010 could make a considerable difference to a wide range of people with a mental health condition, and give them the confidence to ask for a reasonable adjustment at work to help them better manage their condition. But employers should not necessarily wait for someone with a mental health issue to be legally protected because it’s defined as a disability. It’s good practice to interpret an employer’s duty of care to people’s physical and mental health in the widest possible sense and support people to access and remain in work.
Be disability committed and confident
One way that an organisation can demonstrate its commitment to attracting, recruiting and retaining people with a disability or health condition is by signing up to the Government’s voluntary Disability Confident scheme. The scheme has three levels and provides a framework with practical guidance, case studies and tools to steer your organisation to become disability confident. The CIPD is proud to have reached the top level of ‘Disability Confident Leader’ and is working with other organisations to spread good practice.
We need the Disability Confident scheme because there are still many barriers that prevent people with a disability or health condition having equal access to opportunities at work – according to Government figures just 8% of employers had recruited someone from this largely untapped talent pool in the past 12 months. The UK employment rate is at an all-time high of 80% compared with just under 50% for those with a disability – and it’s even lower at about 32% for those with a mental health condition.
Around 80% of people with a disability or health condition develop it during their lifetime, and with many of us living and working for longer, that figure will only increase. We need much greater understanding of disability and health conditions, especially ‘hidden’ ones such as mental ill health. There are many myths and misconceptions around making reasonable adjustments, for example – far from being a typically costly process, the average cost of an adjustment is less than £200.
Signing up to the first Disability Confident level of ‘Disability Confident Committed’ is simple, but means that your organisation has taken the first, vital step to making the workplace more open, accessible and inclusive for people with a disability or health condition. This can send an important message about how you value your people to all your existing and prospective employees.
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