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Gethin Nadin


Chief Innovation Officer, Benefex

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Work and Pensions Secretary claims mental health “gone too far”

Following mental health comments made by the Work and Pensions Secretary and plans to make people signed off work with “mild” conditions search for work, Wellbeing expert Gethin Nadin brings some much-needed clarity on the matter.
Mental health wellbeing crisis measures

Last month Britain’s Work and Pensions Secretary, Mel Stride claimed that our approach to mental health was in danger of “going too far”.

Stride suggested that some people believe they have a mental health condition when in fact they are just experiencing the normal “anxieties of life”. 

As the number of employees off work on sick increases and the prevalence of poor mental health gets worse, I can understand the Government’s keenness to reduce these figures. 

Their new plan is to get 150,000 currently signed off work with “mild” mental health issues back into work. 

While I appreciate and understand the Government’s desire to reduce the huge numbers of UK employees off work ill, I can’t help but think the Government is not only risking a re-introduction of the stigma surrounding mental health at work but is also singularly failing to understand why mental health statistics are getting worse. 

Nothing in any of the Government’s recent statements indicates why they think more people are reporting worsening mental health, other than suggesting many are perhaps not experiencing poor mental health at all. 

The problem with this is twofold: 

1) It ignores the data from healthcare institutions and professionals who diagnose these people, thus suggesting doctors and clinicians are being too soft; and 

2) it ignores the role that this very government has played in the record numbers of poor mental health.

Government decisions have directly impacted employee wellbeing

Often missing from the conversation about workplace mental health is why it’s rising so much in the UK. It can be difficult to pinpoint, and poor mental; health is driven by many things, but there are several large issues in British society over the last two decades that have been catalysts for the crisis we find ourselves in. 

While the pandemic was clearly one of these things, the bigger issue may be this very Government’s austerity decisions. Realising this may be our best way to work out how to fix the mental health crisis we find ourselves in. 

Austerity measures post-2007 crisis

Following the 2007 financial crisis, the UK began to see the introduction of various austerity measures aimed at getting the country financially back on track. Deep spending cuts were designed to reduce the UK’s deficit and help to re-grow the economy. 

But what they actually did was bring Britain to breaking point. Austerity had such a profound impact on our health and wellbeing that it affected life expectancy, killed people and worsened mental health

More people died in Britain due to austerity in the five years before the pandemic than died from Covid-19 in the first three years of the pandemic. 

In addition, it has been suggested that a large number of non-COVID-related deaths could be ascribed to one singular aspect of austerity too: NHS wait times. 

Last year, an average of 268 excess deaths occurred every single week. These 14,000 deaths were needless and avoidable. The negative effects of austerity on UK mental health are still very much with us in 2024.

Post-2008 crisis

The significant influence of the 2008 financial crisis on people’s health and wellbeing is incredibly well documented. As are the negative impacts of the austerity measures that came in as a result of that crisis. 

The UK’s severe austerity measures even made the Covid-19 pandemic even worse for Brits. Austerity has been very bad for public health, not least of all our collective mental health. 

So impactful are these austerity measures that in a rare statement, Olivier de Schutter, the UN’s poverty envoy, warned the UK’s prime minister, Rishi Sunak, that re-imposing austerity measures in the future could “violate the UK’s international human rights obligations and increase hunger and malnutrition.” 

Let’s be very clear here; austerity was a Government decision.

But worryingly, we can also track the impact of austerity on future generations too.

It’s also contributing to the growing prevalence of poor mental health in children – a problem that is making its way to the workforce in the coming years.

Even if we could eradicate poor mental health from the workforce today, the data tells us that future generations will be bringing this baggage with them too. 

We have to think about workplace mental health differently

As well as ensuring we don’t undo the good work we’ve done to remove the stigma of poor mental health, we also need to understand what impact austerity had so we can fix it.

If you delve into the huge volume of data and research into the impact of UK austerity, as well as many common austerity measures within other governments, we can boil it down to several things that either the Government, or an employer can counteract:

Long waiting times

Long waiting times not only harm physical health, but they make mental health worse too. Benefits that ensure employees don’t have to wait for healthcare services are incredibly impactful. Getting employees access to private consultants can speed up treatment. Health insurance can mean employees don’t have to wait for treatment at all. 

Money and mental health

The relationship between money and mental health is strong and cyclical. Funding cuts and fuel rises mean that any attempts to help an employee’s pay go further can be very beneficial. Employee discount schemes, salary sacrifice benefits and financial education are incredibly useful ways to mitigate the ongoing impact of austerity. 

Early intervention

Most people do not practice early intervention when it comes to their wellbeing. They do not consider themselves “at risk” and tend to only do something about their wellbeing when they are at crisis point. Employers can help employees to better manage their wellbeing well in advance of and as a protective measure for poor mental health. 

We shouldn’t be diminishing the feelings and lives of those who are still struggling with life

While I do think we perhaps need a re-calibration of how we talk about mental health, we shouldn’t be doing this at the expense of those who are struggling. 

We shouldn’t be diminishing the feelings and lives of those who while don’t necessarily make a threshold for a formal diagnosis, are still struggling with life. And we certainly shouldn’t be indiscriminately forcing people back to work and shaming them for the time they have been away.

What about you and I?

I have never had a diagnosed mental health condition, but I have spent days feeling very disconnected and distant from my own life. Where I wondered if it was all worth it? If anyone actually cared about me and if I was happy or not. And I fully understand that those comments likely resonate with you at one point in your life too. But does that mean we aren’t deserving of help? 

If I cut my hand open, it will likely heal fine on its own but will leave a scar. If I get appropriate medical help, I will recover quicker with no scar. Isn’t that how we should be viewing mental health support? Aren’t we better off having a society and workplaces where people recover quickly and scars heal fast? 

Where we believe people when they tell us they need help and where we try our best to help them?

Interested in more from Gethin Nadin? Read 500 UK employers fail to pay minimum wage: What’s going on?

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Gethin Nadin

Chief Innovation Officer, Benefex

Read more from Gethin Nadin

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