Employers still ‘unlikely to fund’ mental health treatment

9 Jan 2019 By Maggie Baska

Survey reveals concern over rise in workers seeking help, ahead of potential change in law on workplace mental health

A new survey of UK mental health professionals has revealed growing concern over how employers are preparing for possible new government rules that would require bosses to take responsibility for employee mental health. 

The poll of 200 mental health professionals working with businesses found three in five (58 per cent) felt employers were “unlikely to fund” counselling services for their employees, and had become less likely to do so over the past three years.

However, 42 per cent felt employers were more likely to fund counselling services now than three years ago.

The poll comes ahead of proposed new legislation which would require employers to provide training and monitor employees’ mental health.

The research was conducted by Mental Health Solutions in Business, an NHS-approved online counselling clinic, which polled counsellors to seek their views around workplace wellbeing and the challenges for companies and their workers. 

Almost all (96.8 per cent) reported an increase in workplace mental health caseloads over the last three years, with an average rise of more than 50 per cent in those seeking help. 

There was also consensus that employers could expect this to continue to rise by a further 60 per cent by 2023. 

Mental Health Solutions in Business director Bernadette Bruckner told People Management employers must embed mental health policies into their organisations in the same way they have done when it comes to physical health. 

“It’s important employers don’t fear tackling mental ill-health, because it’s not different to physical health and is just as important,” Bruckner said. “Employers need to be alert and have mechanisms to stay aware of employee psychological wellbeing and how to deal with periods of mental ill-health.”

Bruckner added that proposed changes to the Equality Act 2010 would “firmly set responsibility for identifying and helping” employees with workplace mental health challenges “at employers’ doors”. 

In November, a number of the country’s most notable employers called on the government to place mental health on the same standing as physical first aid in employment and health and safety legislation.

In an open letter, a group of UK business leaders called on prime minister Theresa May to prioritise manifesto pledges to update legislation and act on workplace mental health. 

The proposed changes would mean that under health and safety law, employers would have to provide appropriate training to help employees deal with mental ill-health. Workplaces would also be required to make provision for mental as well as physical first aid. The legislative change has not yet been formally scheduled.

If the manifesto pledges were enacted in full, the Equality Act would also be altered to recognise “episodic and fluctuating” mental health conditions, which could mean employers would have to more closely monitor employees’ mental health.

Rachel Suff, wellbeing adviser at the CIPD, said there was now greater responsibility on employers to create workplaces that foster good mental health, as well as support employees experiencing poor mental health.

“We still have some way to go before mental health is treated with the same openness and attention as physical health,” Suff said. “More organisations still need to be proactive in promoting good mental wellbeing, as well as providing appropriate support for people if they do experience stress or poor mental health”

She explained an effective mental health framework for business should include training for line managers so they are competent in spotting early warning signs of mental ill-health and can have sensitive conversations with staff. 

The Mental Health Solutions in Business poll also explored whether employees felt comfortable talking to their bosses about mental ill-health. The mental health professionals were asked whether their clients were prepared to disclose mental health issues to employers.

Over a third (35 per cent) said workers were unlikely to own up to having problems, with one in 10 (8 per cent) reporting they were “very unlikely”. 

The results echoed a recent survey by consultancy firm Accenture that found almost nine in 10 workers are affected by mental health in some capacity

The survey of 2,170 workers found two-thirds (66 per cent) had personally experienced mental ill-health and 85 per cent had someone close to them, such as a family member or close colleague, who had experienced mental health challenges.

Of the respondents who said they had spoken to someone at work about their mental health,  three-fifths (61 per cent) confided in a close colleague and 39 per cent chose their line manager as their first point of contact, whereas less than a fifth (15 per cent) said they talked to HR or a wellbeing specialist.

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