Mental Health Charity Comments on Stigma and On Psychiatric Hospitals

While I was out of the office last week, two notes came through from the Mental Health Foundation — one commenting on the UK government’s scheme to promote mental well-being at work, and one commenting on a television expose on the poor state of some English psychiatric wards.

With apologies for the delay, both of the following notes came through last week from the Mental Health Foundation.

Mental Health Charity Welcomes Government’s Anti-Stigma Plans

A national mental health charity today welcomed the Government’s new initiative ‘Action on Stigma’, a scheme designed to promote mental well-being and tackle discrimination amongst employers. However, the Mental Health Foundation said that while it welcomes the proposal, it is crucial that it be followed up with real action and adequate resource.

Dr. Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation said:

It is good to see acknowledgement from Government about the serious issue of employer discrimination against people with mental health problems. Recent research shows that fewer than 40% of employers said they would consider hiring someone with a mental health problem and many people with mental health problems have experienced a huge amount of stigma and discrimination within the workplace. This is a fundamental issue about the right to a decent quality of life. The majority of people with experience of mental health problems want to work and are denied from doing so on the grounds of their disability.

The Disability Discrimination Act makes it encumbent on employers not to discriminate against people with disabilities and to allow for flexible working arrangements, but it is important any action taken by employers is not simply tokenistic box ticking. They will need appropriate support and training. If we are to achieve a real change in attitude towards people with mental health problems, Government will need to substantially increase the amount it is willing to invest in any initiative designed to tackle stigma and discrimination. To date there has been minimal investment in this area.

If Government is sincere about its commitment to enabling people with mental health problems enter and retain employment, it is imperative that reforms to incapacity benefit take into account the particular issues and challenges people with mental health problems face. This includes allowing for non-punitive and flexible return to work schemes and person centred employment support.

Additional Notes on Mental Health in the Workplace

  • Many people with mental illness suffer unjustified restrictions in getting and keeping work and for some, discrimination in the work place is far greater than in any other domain. A recent review found that the proportion of the whole adult population in employment was about 75%, for people with physical health problems the figure was about 65%, while only 20% of people with severe mental health problems were employed.
  • Employment rates for people with common mental illness, only reach about 50%. There is some evidence that the UK may be much worse than other EU countries. In a study of people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia in five European countries, the lowest employment rate was in England (5%), compared with 20% and 23% in Spain and Italy.
  • The flexibility of the workplace also plays a large part in how far people with mental illness are included in the workforce. In England, one third of people with mental health problems say that they have been dismissed or forced to resign from their jobs, 40% say that they were denied a job because of their history of psychiatric treatment, and about 60% say that they have been put off applying for a job as they expect to be dealt with unfairly.
  • Another survey showed that fewer than 40% of employers said that they would consider employing a person with a history of mental health problems, compared with 60% for people with a physical disability, and about 80% for long-term unemployed people and lone parents.
  • People with mental disorders have the highest ‘want to work’ rate: In one survey, 52% of disabled people wanted to find a job, while 86% of people with ‘mental illness, phobias and panics’ stated they wanted to work.

Mental Health Charity Comments on Channel Four’s Expose on Psychiatric Wards

The Mental Health Foundation commented today on last night’s channel four Dispatches programme which highlighted the poor state of some psychiatric inpatient wards in England.

Kathryn Hill, Director of Mental Health Programmes at the Mental Health Foundation said:

The issues highlighted in the programme are not new. Many inpatient wards are the very antitheses of the therapeutic environment they are supposed to be. An overstretched workforce, the safety of both patients and staff, and a lack of qualified mental health nurses are problems that the mental health sector and government have known about for years. It is a grave issue that requires urgent action. Lives are being lost and people’s rights infringed through lack of resource and inaction.

A significant amount of investment is needed to address the problems prevalent on wards across the UK. There is a pressing need to increase numbers of qualified mental health nurses on inpatient units and to provide thorough training for all non-qualified staff. Consideration also needs to be given to the high numbers of agency staff which can compromise continuity of care.

Moira Fraser, Head of Policy at the Mental Health Foundation said:

The physical environment is of central importance. Mixed sex communal areas still exist in most hospitals and can be very distressing places for vulnerable patients. Single sex areas should mean single sex. What does it say about a system in which some of society’s most vulnerable people feel less safe in hospital than outside. It is time to put into action a zero tolerance policy to protect vulnerable patients from sexual abuse. This should be an environment where people can feel safe and protected. It is not acceptable that women, many of whom have histories of abuse, are in danger of being raped while in an environment that should ensure protection and safety when they need it most. The situation is scandalous and cannot be allowed to continue.

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