Employee assistance programmes are in the spotlight due to a schizophrenic approach by government. But as Sue Weir points out, they are backed by solid research.
Weir’s comment about the ability of an EAP to offer instant confidential support, without the need for a referral, becomes particularly relevant when considered in the light of the findings of the NHS’s recent survey concerning attitudes to mental illness.
The survey interviewed 1,741 respondents in England in February and March 2011. Respondents were asked how comfortable they would feel talking to a current or prospective employer about their mental health – for example, telling them that they have a mental health diagnosis and how it affects them.
The findings found respondents were far less likely to say they would feel comfortable talking to an employer than to friends and family – 42% said they would feel comfortable talking to an employer compared with 70% who would feel comfortable talking to friends and family.
These findings are backed up by the results of research carried out by the UK’s largest mental health charity, Mind. The 2011 report shows a continuing trend for people reporting that work is the most stressful thing in their lives, above money worries, marriage and relationships or health issues.
Yet eight in ten felt their manager would not help them cope with stress, while one in five feared that speaking up about their stress would put them first in line for redundancy. It would appear that their fears are not unfounded – of those who have disclosed a mental health problem at work, one in five have been sacked or forced out of their job.
The World Health Organisation estimated that mental health conditions cost British employers almost £26bn a year through absence and ‘presenteeism’. And according to the Mental Health Foundation, statistics show that within a one-year period, a staggering one in four people will experience problems with mental health.
The government’s response to these worrying statistics has been to mount a major campaign to ensure that mental health is given the same importance as the nation’s physical health.