Employees who have mental health conditions can maintain their place in the workforce, says Margaret Barrett

This month NHS Employers launched its mental health and employment campaign Open Your Mind. The campaign is directed at NHS organisations to support employers in creating a better working environment for staff and improve employment rates for people with mild, moderate and severe mental health conditions.

Employers have a duty to create a safe working environment

Open Your Mind aims to reduce the stigma and misunderstanding of mental health. It also raises awareness throughout the NHS of the benefits to patients, staff and organisations of employing and retaining staff with mental health conditions.

Mental ill health will affect one in four people at some time in their working lives and the costs to individuals, and to society, of not dealing effectively with the issue of mental ill health in the workplace are significant, with an estimated 80 million work days being lost each year. The NHS, with a workforce of more than 1.3 million people, is well placed to positively influence the issues of employment and mental health and enable mental health service users to retain, or return to, employment.

Employers have a duty to create a safe working environment, with regular reviews of risk, and prompt and fair responses to employee distress. Most health conditions can be accommodated at work if a flexible approach is adopted and managers, colleagues and individuals work together to overcome perceived obstacles. This safe working environment relates to both physical and mental good health - commentators have long argued that one is not possible without the other.

The user employment programme

South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust started its user employment programme in 1995. The programme provides support in employment in the trust for people with mental health conditions, on the same terms and conditions as other employees.

By 2009 the programme had supported people with mental health conditions in 223 jobs in all clinical professions and across the trust. Of the people who no longer need support from the programme, 86 per cent have continued employment in the trust or moved on to professional education, for example nursing or clinical psychology training.

Data shows that since 2001 at least 20 per cent of recruits each year have personal experience of mental health conditions.

The trust believes the programme makes good business sense, as it delivers reliable and committed employees. Staff with mental health conditions who are supported take less sick leave than other staff.

Good practice checklist

  • Identify and publicise a senior individual with responsibility for staff mental health and wellbeing
  • Train managers in identifying and managing staff with mental health conditions
  • Create an environment that encourages staff to discuss their mental wellbeing and to take responsibility for their own health
  • Use staff survey results to review how the organisation is performing in relation to staff mental health and wellbeing
  • Ensure policies, including health and safety and equality and diversity, include consideration of staff mental health issues
  • Ensure recruitment practices demonstrate awareness of issues and comply with legislation
  • Provide access to occupational health services, including opportunities for self-referral
  • Maintain privacy and protection of personal information
  • Demonstrate use of positive language
  • Include improving employment outcomes in board reports, business planning and commissioning


The Open Your Mind campaign pack is sent to all NHS organisations and includes posters, stickers, and postcards (pictured).

The Open Your Mind website (www.nhsemployers.org/openyourmind) provides practical information for both employees and for those with employment responsibilities. It includes:

  • good practice information on HR policy, raising awareness, and reasonable adjustments
  • individual case studies, in video and written form
  • weblinks to well established resources and organisations
  • signposts to training

Throughout the year there will be additional information from action learning sets and workshops. If you are interested in working on the next development stage please contact margaret.barrett@nhsemployers.org