According to new research, mental health problems cost the UK economy at least £117.9 billion per year. The research was led by the London School of Economics in collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation and published in February this year.
What is the impact of poor mental health and who bears the cost?
To put that figure of £117.9 billion into context, it’s equivalent to 5% of UK GDP and also about 78% of the entire NHS England budget in 2019-20.*
Some of that money is spent on healthcare, but most costs are incurred in other areas. For example, time off work / sickness time is a consequence of poor mental health and is initially a cost to employers either in the form of time out of work or increased sickness pay. If you think more about the impact of mental health challenges on employers, we can imagine that there’s also an impact in the form of increased stress for co-workers and reduced productivity across the team where colleagues may need to cover work or maybe quality of customer service suffers.
Something these cost estimates DON’T include is the cost of lowered performance at work as a result of poor mental health. Of course, when an employee or colleague isn’t well, we don’t’ expect them to be at their best. That’s normal. But we do like to think we can all access the support we need to stay as healthy as possible and to help us recover when we need to. If there are preventative measures that could be taken, as this report argues, it makes sense to invest in them now, especially as the evidence suggests individuals and our economy will be better off later.
When we think about the bigger picture like this, it becomes clear that not looking after the mental health of individuals has an impact on all of us.
*According to the 2022 Mental Health Foundation report the NHS England Budget in 2019-20 was £150.4bn.
What can business leaders, HR & first line managers do?
A review quoted in the report found that every £1 invested in mental health interventions in the workplace results in a saving of £5!
Businesses can and should play an important role in championing mental health. It’s not just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense. Your people are the source of your creativity, your innovation, your relationships with customers & clients and much more. If they’re not performing at their best, your organisation is underperforming.
And mental health isn’t someone else’s problem or solely the responsibility of the individual. Good working conditions and organisational culture strongly influence wellbeing and mental health. The 2017 Stevenson/Farmer review ‘Thriving at Work’ sets out six core standards that employers should commit to around mental health:
- Create a mental health at work plan
- Build mental health awareness by making information and support accessible
- Encourage open conversations
- Provide good working conditions and ensure employees have a healthy work-life balance
- Promote effective people management, with line managers holding regular conversations about health and wellbeing with their staff
- Routinely monitor employee mental health
(Read more in my recent blog ‘2022 Stevenson Farmer Update’)
If you’re wondering where to start, other evidence** showed that the greatest savings were achieved by programmes that offered development for line managers and workers in understanding the risks for mental health. It makes a lot of sense to start with line managers as they have a huge influence on the people they manage. We’ve all experienced the joy of a manager who supports us really well and also how demoralising it can be when your manager is out of their depth. Think about the impact of this across an organisation: truly supporting all our managers can create the culture change we need to support mental health.
** evidence was quoted in the 2022 Mental Health Foundation report, the same report that gives the figure of £117.9bn shared at the start of this post.