For more than 25 years, this annual event has helped to educate people about mental health, raising awareness of the barriers many with mental health issues experience, and working to break down prejudices which, sadly, still persist.
As a society, we’ve come a long way since the first World Mental Health Day in 1992. Employers are now prevented from requiring applicants to disclose their mental health history when applying for a job. And the law now states that mental health should be treated on an equal footing with physical health.
But statutory changes can only go so far. People living with terrible anxiety or enduring the black dog of depression need empathy, understanding, and support. Figures show that, although four out of 10 of us experience such problems at some point in our lives, nine out of 10 people with mental health problems says they are affected by discrimination. This is something that must not be tolerated in a modern, fair and inclusive society.
People with mental health problems are also disadvantaged in other ways. According to the Mental Health Foundation, they are less likely to be able to find work, to be in long-term relationships and to live in decent homes. All of this is in addition to the hard truth that the poorest and most disadvantaged people in our society are the most likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. It is sad but unsurprising that poverty is both a cause and a consequence of mental ill health. But I believe that if we can make some aspects of people’s lives easier, such as through the work that they do, we can help to create happier individuals, families and communities.
I am proud that the Sheffield City Region’s pioneering Working Win project, one of only two clinical research trials in the UK, is already helping people to find work. This national research trial aims to find the best type of support for those who want to find employment while managing physical or mental health problems – or in many cases, both.
Now, five months since Working Win was launched, we have more than 1,000 people taking part, and are starting to see incredibly positive stories from those involved in all elements of the project.
Specialist work coaches are helping people to overcome some of the barriers to their employment, while companies have also signed up to learn more about how they can better support their employees.
If the trial proves successful, Working Win could lead the way for this sort of personalised support being introduced nationwide. And there is no doubt that change on a national scale is much-needed.
That change means more businesses employing those people with physical and mental health problems who can work, and want to work.
Life is much more expensive if you’re disabled – around £570 more expensive a month, according to figures from the charity Scope. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that studies have shown over 50% of disabled people want to work more.
Here in the Sheffield City Region, one in six people have a disability or long-term health condition yet only 47% of these people are in work. Some of these people may not be able to work or may not be seeking employment. But for those people who do want to find the right job for them, the option needs to be there.
By not enabling businesses to support people with physical and/or mental health problems, we are missing out on the talents that these people can bring to the workplace, and missing out on potentially huge economic benefits for us all. According to calculations by Oxford Economics, it is estimated that the UK GDP in 2015 could have been more than £25 billion higher, if it weren’t for the economic consequences of mental health problems to both individuals and businesses.
By making small changes to the way that businesses advertise jobs and the way that employees are supported, we can help to not only raise the standards of business in the region and improve the economy but to help others live happier, more fulfilling lives.
I’m proud that Working Win is leading the way in helping people find the right jobs, and receive the best support while they are in those jobs.
And I would urge our businesses to take the free, individual, support that is on offer, so that we can all make South Yorkshire a place where people with physical and mental health problems are valued in the workplace. This is crucial not just this World Mental Health Day, but every day.