There is a mental health crisis in our society. Not just in the UK, nor just in Europe but across the globe.
We have all seen the statistics about how many work days are lost to mental illness each year and what this costs business. There is also the alarming human cost which is measured in people who leave careers they have worked hard to achieve, never to return, and those who sadly take their own lives. The world of work is losing talent at an alarming rate and the social cost this causes cannot be underestimated.
Mental health is becoming a core component of claims statistics. According to Unum, between August 2016 and July 2017, 17 per cent of all group income protection claims paid were relating to mental health conditions, second only to cancer at 29 per cent.
It is astonishing really that more progress is not being made in this area. It’s no mystery what causes mental ill health.
Yes, some people have lifelong conditions which wax and wane and which they learn to manage but for the many people who become ill each year whether as a result of work or not, the reasons why people develop common mental health conditions like depression and anxiety are obvious.
There are drivers such as: pressure, overwork, financial problems, relationship difficulties, stress at work and at home. Even the way we live our modern lives: always busy and always connected.
Prejudice plain and simple
I’ve been working in the field of mental health problems at work for a decade. I am a discrimination lawyer and litigator. I represent people who have had breakdowns and who return to work only to find they are being performance-managed out or “made redundant”.
I have also represented people who have had to deal with employers who, despite the legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments are anything but reasonable and wear people down until they walk away. Why is it that so many people who try to resume work after mental illness are stopped in their tracks? And is it any wonder that people suffer in silence?
The reason is simple: it’s called prejudice. There is a huge amount of prejudice around mental illness. I am not suggesting it is always conscious but there is a huge amount of prejudice.
Take, for example, the assumption that someone who works in banking in a high-pressure role can no longer do the job they have done for twenty years because they are recovering from an episode of depression. Would a person returning to work after a heart attack be removed from a high-pressure job and treated like a pariah? Of course not.
He or she would be congratulated on getting back to work and be viewed as the same person they were before. Not so for people recovering from mental illness. They are perceived as damaged goods, fragile people who cannot withstand any stress.