MP - Employers must 'wake up' to workplace mental health

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A senior MP is urging employers to "wake up" to the importance of mental health in the workplace.

The warning came from Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for Worthing West and a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health, who was speaking at the launch of Legal and General's Stress in the city programme.

He said a stigma to mental illness still existed that was not present for more physical problems and called on employers to understand the impacts of changes to working practices.

"If my wife had depression, rather than a broken arm, people would start saying it's rather different and have a revulsion towards that and the issue becomes a bit cloudier," he said.

"So you shouldn't be put off by what you haven't got used to.

"It's not just what's likely to happen to you that's the problem, it's the feeling you can't cope and don't think it's worthwhile or haven't got people around you to understand what you're doing.

"The scale of change in employment is not going to stop, it's how you stop that becoming a work related breakdown. And employers - and their people managers rather than line managers need to wake up," he added.

The Stress in the city programme is particularly targeted at the financial services sector, which the insurer says has witnessed the greatest increase in mental ill-health across the country.

Over the next four months it will be highlighting the mounting problem of long-term sickness absences in the sector by revealing new data and placing posters in London's main commuter train stations.

According to the insurer's own statistics, 42% of all claims in the financial sector are for mental health illnesses.

And the overall need for employers to act on mental health was also identified by the government's pilot occupational health advice line, for which work related stress was the most common health reason for calling.

However only 17% of employers from all sectors have any form of stress management advice and support in place.

Launching the programme, L&G employer services director Glen Lamming highlighted the importance of early intervention.

"With stress related absence it's absolutely vital to be involved from the early stages," he said.

"The correlation between the point of notification and duration - clear evidence if you are involved earlier they will be back to work sooner.

"So these are investments that employers should be making for the benefits of their staff and their business."

Lamming also noted that the problem was not unique to white collar workers, explaining that in 2011, 24% of absences in blue collar industries were for stress related conditions.

The campaign is also open to all parts of the country with 13% of employees in the banking sector based in Scotland.

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