SCIE opinion - 10 October 2011

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Photograph of Pete Fleischmann

Mental health and employment in the social care sector

Pete Fleischmann

What's it like to have mental health issues and be in a job?  As someone who has experienced mental health issues, and a manager, I have thought a great deal about the issue of employment and mental health.

I'm one of the lucky ones. That's because my work has been all about involving service users in the design and delivery of services and my experience of using services is seen as an asset. Also I've been reasonably stable for a long time as I do a lot to look after my well being.

However, I know that my experiences aren't always the norm. At SCIE, we have a new At a glance briefing, Research Briefing and Digital Report on these issues. They say that, among the working age population, nearly one in six people will be experiencing mental health problems such depression or anxiety. There are many figures I could dazzle you with, but here's another that is high up in our briefing: Only between 10% and 20% of people with severe mental health problems are estimated to be in paid employment.

So it's no surprise that mental health issues can lead to stigma. People feel that it's really hard to talk about mental health issues at work. One of the big issues that people, with mental health issues, have to deal with, is about “to tell or not to tell”.

I would say that it's really important to tell but only if you are confident that your manager will be supportive. Organisations, and managers, can't support employees unless they know that there's a problem; and what the problem is. There are all sorts of issues; for instance, what's a good time to disclose the information? How do you explain the gaps in employment on your CV? Then you may worry that you've left yourself vulnerable. In what is likely to be a more competitive workplace, it's very difficult to disclose this information unless you can trust your manager.

The challenge for managers is to create a culture at work, where employees feel it's OK to talk about work-related stress and mental health issues. Then there are lots of quite simple helpful things that managers can do, with a bit of training and confidence, to support you so that you can work and contribute. See Pete talk about this issue on a video opinion (vlog).

The new resources are aimed primarily at the social care sector. It's a major source of employment in England. One suggestion is that it's important to recognise the very early signs of mental health problems at work. It's also key to know that information is available on a range of professional support and treatments. People who have experienced mental health issues really have something to contribute to the workplace.  The risk for organisations if they don't have the right policies in place is that they miss out of skills and talent of mental health users.

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