Workplace mental health support worse for public sector than private sector workers

Workplace wellbeing support is worse in the public sector than in the private sector, according to a major survey by the mental health charity Mind. The survey of over 12,000 employees across the public and private sectors found there is a higher prevalence of mental health problems in the public sector, as well as a lack of support available when people do speak up. Of those with a mental health problem, 90 percent of public sector staff disclosed it to their employer, compared with 80 percent in the private sector. When taking time off for mental health reasons, 69 percent of public sector workers were honest about the reason for needing time off, compared with 59 percent of private sector staff. 38 percent of public sector employees said the workplace cultured allowed staff to be open about mental health problems, compared with 29 percent in the private sector.

The UK public sector employs over 5.4 million people, almost 3 million of whom are employed by central Government alone. Mind’s survey found that public sector workers were over a third more likely to say their mental health was poor than their peers in the private sector (15 percent versus 9 percent), and far more likely to say they have felt anxious at work on several occasions over the last month (53 percent compared to 43 percent).

The impact on the sector is significant. Public sector survey respondents said that, on average, they had taken nearly three days off sick in the last year, compared to just under one day on average for workers in the private sector. Almost half (48 percent) of public sector workers have had time off because of their mental health, compared with less than a third (32 percent) of the private sector workforce.

The survey indicates that the sector as a whole is more aware of the problem than the private sector. The results show that public sector workers are more likely to disclose that they have a mental health problem, are more likely to be up front about it if they do take time off because of their mental health and are more likely to report that the workplace culture makes it possible for people to speak openly about their mental health*. However, when they do open up, support isn’t always forthcoming. Less than half (49 percent) of people said they felt supported when they disclosed mental health problems, compared with three in five (61 percent) in the private sector.

Mind is calling on the next government to make mental health in the workplace a key priority. To do this, they want to see the next government promote, recognise and share effective in-work solutions for employers, including wellbeing initiatives and Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index, support the continuation of the Independent Mental Health and Employers Review and commit to implementing the recommendations which will have a positive impact in supporting employers to be a full partner in driving this change.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “Mental health is one of the biggest domestic issues facing the next government. More people than ever are speaking out about mental health and demanding change. As a nation our expectations for better mental health for all are higher than ever and the next government must rise to this challenge.

“A vital part of changing the lives of people with mental health problems is to tackle the culture of fear and silence in the workplace that stops people opening up about what they are experiencing. This data shows that the public sector in particular is making progress here. But it’s also vital that when people do speak out they get the right help and support at the right time. It’s clear there is still a long way to go in both the public and private sector to address the gap between people asking for support and actually getting what they need.

“By promoting wellbeing for all staff, tackling the causes of work-related mental health problems and supporting staff who are experiencing mental health problems, organisations can help keep people at work and create mentally healthy workplaces where people are supported to perform at their best.”

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