Dr Maze

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regular comment for managers on workplace health issues

Workplace Interventions for Common Mental Health Problems

Mental health and musculoskeletal disorders are “the big two” causes of sickness absence in the UK working population (about 40% each in the absence statistics). Each year, about a quarter of the UK population experience some form of mental health problem such as depression, panic attacks or stress. The economy loses about £11.6bn annually, due to time off work with these conditions.

The British Occupational Health Research Foundation (www.bohrf.org.uk ) funds high quality research that has direct application to the workplace. They have been looking at the effectiveness of “Workplace Interventions for Common Mental Health Problems.” Earlier this week, they launched their Evidence Review at the Royal College of Physicians in London. A secondary launch is planned for next Friday at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. The study was sponsored by First Assist (www.firstassist.co.uk ) and carried out by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health.

Many employees with mental health problems end up losing their jobs. The report found that counselling could help staff to stay in work. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) was particularly effective. This method deals with the way you think about your problems as well as focusing on your behaviour.

So what can you do? Employers have a key role in preventing job loss and in reducing employee sickness rates. Creating a mentally healthy workplace is as important an investment as any form of staff training or development. If you’re worried about cost, it will pay for itself. Employers need to develop policies to help workers with mental health problems. Supervisors should contact employees off work with mental health problems at least once every two weeks. Early interventions should be used as much as possible – an eight week course of CBT can make the difference in helping your staff remain at work.

Workers’ representatives also support this approach. Hugh Robertson, head of health and safety at the Trades Union Congress (http://www.tuc.org.uk ), welcomed the report saying, “Most employers are doing very little in this area. They don’t know what to do if someone is off work, whether to contact them or not, so often they don’t.”

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