Employment can be good for mental health
The Royal College of Psychiatrists (2017) note that work gives us ‘social contacts and support, a way of structuring and occupying our time, physical and mental activity, an opportunity to develop and use skills, social status, a sense of identity and personal achievement, and monetary and other resources needed for material well-being’. Contrary to this, those who are unemployed or out of work for more than 12 weeks ‘are between 4 and 10 times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety’; they generally also ‘have poorer physical and mental health overall, consult their GP more, are more likely to be admitted to hospital, and have higher death rates’. Unemployment is also linked with an increased rate of suicide (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2017).
A press release [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] issued by the Department of Health in 2014, based on the UK Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO's) annual report of the same year, also noted that ‘employment is good for mental health’ (Department of Health, 2014a). In the report Professor Dame Sally Davies made 14 recommendations to improve public mental health services (Department of Health 2014b). The following key points were highlighted in the report:
70 million working days were lost to mental illness at a cost of £70-100 billion to the UK economy in the previous year.
People with a chronic physical condition (such as a heart condition) have a 2.6 fold increase in the odds of having a mental illness.
The number of days lost to stress, depression and anxiety had increased by 24% since 2009.
50% of adult mental illness started before the age of 15, and 75% by the age of 18.
75% of people with diagnosable mental illness received no treatment at all.
60-70% of people with common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety were in work, and more was needed to be done to help people with mental health conditions remain in work.
This latter point was emphasised as a ‘stark issue‘ by Professor Davies, stating that ‘it is crucial that we take action to help those people stay in employment to benefit their own health as well as the economy’ (Department of Health, 2014a). Professor Simon Wessely, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists at the time, welcomed the report, with its particular emphasis on the importance of employment to good mental health, and endorsed ‘the CMO’s call for employment becoming a routine outcome indicator for mental health services – an outcome that has real world relevance’. He further commented that ‘more support is needed to keep those who are at risk of losing their jobs from joining the ranks of the long term sick’ (Department of Health 2014a).