by Vicki Nash, Head of Policy and Campaigns, Mind
As media interest has grown, mental health has risen up the social agenda. And now here we are, finally at a place where the public is more aware of mental health. Campaigns such as Time to Change and Heads Together, led by the young royals, have played a crucial part in creating a focus and support.
A huge part of this shift is more people feeling able to share their stories and experiences. People are often described as brave for telling their stories, but most people don’t feel brave. They just want to be more open and discuss their experiences, so that others don’t have to go through the stigma, the shame and the struggles they have faced, and to help improve the day-to-day lives for those of us with mental health problems.
However, the latest ONS figures on the disability pay gap highlight the uphill struggle many people still face in the workplace and wider society. We know how much of a problem stigma is, with employees feeling unable to talk about issues such as stress, anxiety or depression, for fear they will be overlooked for promotion or face other discrimination.
People with mental health problems can and do make a valuable contribution to the workplace, but despite this some 300,000 people with long-term mental health problems fall out of work every year. A lack of support and understanding means these people are not able to reach their potential and progress.
The Equality Act gives disabled employees, including people with mental health problems, the right to not be discriminated against in work, and to access reasonable adjustments if they need them.
However, a lack of clarity around the act’s definition of disability means people are often unsure about whether they are covered. Without knowledge of the Equality Act, employees are left unable to challenge their workplace if and when they face discrimination on the grounds of a health condition. This means that many people are missing out on crucial workplace protections.
The next government must commit to changing the legislation and make sure all disabled people are properly protected so they can thrive at work.
It’s all of our business to try to understand the factors which are leaving increasing numbers of people without support, including in their places of work.
And we must get better at understanding that for some people being in work is not the best thing to help recovery or manage our mental health problems. The benefits system should be a safety net to help us, but it’s not fit for purpose. None of us should be put at risk of falling into poverty because we’re too unwell to make it to the job centre. But that’s a fear that thousands of people live with every week.
Because mental health affects so many different areas of life, whoever gets the keys to Downing Street must implement a cross-governmental strategy that puts mental health at the heart of every department’s agenda. It is the only way we will see a joined-up approach across all services – from employment to social care, education to housing, welfare to policing and health.
There is no room for mere lip service when the need for real change is this great.