People with mental-health issues should be helped to stay at work, says OECD

Over a third of sickness and disability in OECD countries related to mental ill-healthAround 30 percent to 40 percent of all sickness and disability caseloads in OECD countries are related to mental-health problems finds a new OECD report. Fit Mind, Fit Job: From Evidence to Practice in Mental Health and Work reveals that the total cost of mental illness is estimated at around 3.5 percent of GDP in Europe.  People with mild to moderate disorders, such as anxiety or depression, are twice as likely to become unemployed. They also run a much higher risk of living in poverty and social marginalisation.  But although most people with mental health problems are in work they struggle; with 7 in 10 of them in 21 countries of the European Union reporting that they are underperforming at work. While a heavy workload and stress may add to mental health problems, the evidence shows that staying at work is also part of the solution if appropriate support is provided.

“Mental health issues exact a high price on individuals, their families, employers and the economy,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría during a launch event in The Hague.

“Policymakers have been too slow to act. Strong political leadership is needed to drive reform and tackle this issue.”

He added: “Intervening only when a person has been out of work for several months, or even years, as is often the case, is ineffective and almost always more costly than acting quickly. Employment and health services need to act fast when mental health problems are spotted or diagnosed.”

Despite growing recognition of the issue in society, considerable social stigma around mental ill health remains. Intervening early is critical, yet in practice it can often take more than ten years between the onset of illness and the first treatment in most countries.

The report points out that any action taken in school or the workplace will have a better, more lasting impact than waiting until people have dropped out of education or the labour market.

While a heavy workload and work related stress may add to mental health problems, the evidence shows that staying in school or at work is also part of the solution if appropriate support is provided.

The mismatch between the needs of people suffering from mental ill-health and the services provided to them is one of the biggest problems, according to the report. Current policies are often delivered in silos by health, employment and education services. Creating an integrated system would deliver much better, faster outcomes.

Teachers, employers, general practitioners, social workers and employment service caseworkers are often best placed to identify people with mental health issues at an early stage. They need training and a clear pathway to access support from mental health professionals.

Stronger leadership at political and managerial level is needed: in most countries, guidelines and regulations exist but have little impact. Their use should be systematically monitored and non-compliance sanctioned.

Click here for an overview of the report.