October 10th was World Mental Health Day when I was pleased to officially sign Ipswich Borough Council up to the “Time to Change Employer Pledge”, reports David Ellesmere, Leader of Ipswich Borough Council.
This is a demonstration of our commitment to change how we think and act about mental health in the workplace and make sure that council employees who are facing these problems feel supported.
Mental health is an issue employers cannot afford to ignore.
One in four British workers are affected by conditions like anxiety, depression and stress every year. Mental ill-health is the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK.
However, there is a still a culture of not being open about mental health issues. It is estimated that 95% of employees calling in sick with stress actually give a different reason.
Bottling all this up can just lead to bigger problems in the future.
There does seem to be a growing awareness and willingness to talk about mental illness though.
Theresa May has said that she wishes to end the stigma around mental health problems. She has also announced the creation of a new Minister for Suicide Prevention.
This is laudable, but these are sticking plasters on big problems that are actually being made worse by her Government’s policies.
Despite promises of more funding, there are 5,000 fewer mental health nurses now than in 2010. In Ipswich, Lark Ward psychiatric intensive care unit closed for six months due to staff shortages.
Austerity-induced job cuts mean the same, or more, work is being done by fewer staff – a sure recipe for work-related stress.
Poverty is well-known to cause a deterioration in mental health. Cuts to benefits – in particular the five-week wait people have to endure when moving to Universal Credit – and the huge increase in insecure, part time, low paid jobs are all making people poorer.
If Theresa May was sincere when she said austerity is at an end, then I might believe there was light at the end of the tunnel.
But there is no sign that the Government is looking to tackle these much bigger issues, so we are not going to see genuine change. Warm words and a new minister just aren’t going to cut it.