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‘Working’ on mental health – the role of occupational health

11th September, 2018

Jane Edbrooke



Imagine you’re struggling with your mental health, day to day activity and keeping on top of life. It feels a daily battle. And then, you lose your job or you just feel you can’t stay at your job because you aren’t coping. The daily structure that was keeping you going is gone, you lose your income, and you lose your confidence. Your mental health condition is exacerbated and you are left feeling out of control.

Alongside leading on policy for the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM), I’m a local Councillor for an inner-city borough. I know first-hand the role that mental health has in poverty. And at the most extreme end, almost all the residents I speak to who are living on the streets, in and out of hostels, have mental health conditions. As the Mental Health Foundation says ‘Homelessness and mental health often go hand in hand, and can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having a mental health problem can create the circumstances which can cause a person to become homeless in the first place.’

Work as a health outcome

The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, a report from the independent Mental Health Taskforce to the NHS in England stated employment is vital to health and should be recognised as a health outcome. They pointed out that employment and health form a virtuous circle: suitable work can be good for your health, and good health means that you are more likely to be employed. Stable employment is a crucial factor, contributing to someone being able to maintain good mental health and is an important outcome for their recovery if they have developed a mental health problem. If we can intervene at an early stage, keeping people in work (acknowledging that good work promotes good mental health) we can really make a difference to people's lives.

The employment rate for adults with mental health problems remains unacceptably low: 43 per cent of all people with mental health problems are in employment, compared to 74 per cent of the general population and 65 per cent of people with other health conditions. Yet few employees have access to specialist occupational health services that can help with this. People with mental health problems are often overrepresented in high-turnover, low-pay and often part-time or temporary work – the exact areas where we see a lack of access to occupational health.

That’s why we welcome this MadWorld conference and hope there is a commitment by companies to commission “effective occupational health services”. Leadership by occupational health professionals can create the right conditions where employees can share their concerns regarding their mental health and regularly addressing workplace stress and wellbeing can help. Occupational Health can help facilitate accommodation to working practices that can make a real difference – from being flexible around working hours to a review of workload.

Campaigns around talking about mental health and this conference can make an impact – but we need to start focusing on the ‘what next’ factor. Here at SOM we are campaigning for universal access to occupational health so that all employees can have access to trained health professionals who can help them stay in work and get or stay well.


Jane Edbrooke

Jane Edbrooke is the policy and communications lead for the SOM. SOM is the largest, nationally recognised professional organisation of individuals with an interest in health and work. Members are part of a multidisciplinary community – including doctors, technicians, nurses, and other occupational health specialists. Their members benefit from career development opportunities alongside practical, day-to-day support and guidance, through local and national networks that are open to all. SOM advances knowledge through its journal, Occupational Medicine, raises standards and increases awareness and seeks to positively influence the future of work. For further information, contact our Corporate Partnerships Co-ordinator Pam.Keshavarzian@som.org.uk or phone 0203 478 1043, www.som.org.uk

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