How we’re helping people with mental health conditions into work

Published: 10 October 2022

Two women in a park on swings, talking to eachother.
Finding a paid job is a critical part of good mental health, but there are still huge inequalities in employment and education. 

Monday 10 October is World Mental Health Day and I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the progress that has been made for people with mental health conditions. There seem more help and support services available than ever, improved community perceptions, and talking about mental health and its impact is more common than it ever has been.

Yet we still aren’t where we need to be. Stigma and discrimination still isolate people and reduces the chances for an individual’s recovery path. We all know treatment and care is one part of recovery, but finding a paid job is a critical part too. However, there are still huge inequalities in employment for those with mental health illness, and many are denied or excluded from having a job or getting an education.

Back in 2008 I started my first job with people that were experiencing mental ill health. I was going to help them find suitable, lasting work, and I remember being excited to tell my family the good news. Only they didn’t see it as good news. I remember a close relative being worried that I would be putting myself at risk working with people that might be violent or dangerous, and another that thought depression wasn’t real’ and that the people I was working with were just lazy. It surprised me that people I knew and cared about thought that way, and it opened my eyes to the stigmatisation that people with a mental health condition, or those experiencing a period of mental ill health, encounter on a regular basis.

Negative attitudes and discriminatory behaviour toward people with mental ill health are widespread; one study of 1,085 people from 35 countries found that three out of four people with a mental health condition experienced discrimination in at least one area of life, and across the OECD countries, one in four thought that people with mental health conditions should be excluded from holding public office.

people in the UK with mental health issues who’d like to work 
of those people in paid employment 
of people with severe mental health problems who are in paid employment 

Here in the UK, between 70% and 90% of people with mental health issues would like to work, but only 37% are in paid employment. For people with severe mental illness, this falls to 7%. The right to work is one of the most commonly violated rights for people experiencing mental health problems, and when employed, they are often underpaid.

In the UK one out of four people experience mental health issues each year. It’s hard to imagine anyone that hasn’t known someone that has experienced mental ill health, if they haven’t experienced it themselves. Sharing what it’s like to have mental ill health and experience discrimination can boost confidence and empower others to resist negative self labels.

The most effective method of improving mental health-related knowledge and attitudes in the short term is actually meeting and interacting with people who are living with mental health problems, or hearing their stories and feelings about what it’s like.

Mental health-related stigma and discrimination are invisible walls that can impede people with mental health conditions from fully participating in their society and communities. These walls are present in schools, workplaces, governments, health care settings, even homes. Ending the discrimination and stigmatisation of mental health conditions requires the involvement of all these settings.

Access to the right job with the right support plays a key role in recovery and confidence, and expands social networks. Suitable work is good for wellbeing, and people experiencing severe mental illness who find paid work show reduced symptoms, gain financial independence, and have improved quality of life.

Individual Placement and Support (IPS) is an employment support approach developed for people experiencing mental health issues and IPS Grow, hosted by Social Finance, is a team of IPS experts who provide specialist assistance to support the development and delivery of evidence-based employment services across the health system.

IPS offers intensive, individually tailored support to help people choose and find the right job, with ongoing support for the employer and employee to help ensure the person keeps their job, a personalised and strengths-based approach to support people to find a job of their choosing, and aims to help people find paid jobs within weeks of being referred to the service. It continues to work with both employer and employee to sustain the job placement for as long as possible, or to help the client into a different job.

IPS directly tackles the lack of integration of healthcare and employment services and the disconnection of different specialists by integrating employment specialists into health teams, and it works: compared with traditional support, IPS has been proven in numerous studies to help more people with severe mental illness back into work more quickly. On average, people receiving IPS keep their jobs longer, earn more, and spend less time in hospital. That’s why NICE recommends mental health services to provide IPS to their users.

I’m proud of the work we do to support people experiencing mental ill health to find work. This World Mental Health Day, let’s commit to ensure there are no walls stopping people from earning an income, having an education, and accessing quality health care.

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