Staff with mental health conditions still ‘a risk’, say employers


Two-fifths of employers still believe that staff with mental health conditions are a “significant risk” in the workplace, according to a new report.

A survey of British businesses for the report found that the proportion of employers who believe it is a significant risk to employ people with mental health conditions in a role in which they would liaise with the public or clients fell slightly from 46 per cent in 2006, but was still as high as 40 per cent in 2009.

And more than half of employers feel that the negative attitudes of co-workers presents a “major barrier” to employing people with mental health conditions, with a fall of only two percentage points since 2006.

But the number of businesses that said they had an employee with a mental health condition almost doubled, from 11 per cent to 21 per cent.

And the proportion of companies that said they would be flexible in offering workplace adjustments to someone with mental ill-health rose from 64 to 81 per cent.

The report – commissioned by the charity Shaw Trust, which provides employment services to disabled people, and funded by the Time to Change anti-stigma campaign – concluded that “major barriers” remain in the way of people with mental health conditions seeking work.

The survey of 500 British businesses – which was carried out in 2009 but only published this month – compares attitudes with a similar survey in 2006.

Sally Burton, chief executive of Shaw Trust, said there had been “some improvement in understanding and awareness” but that “negative views around the capability and reliability of people with mental health conditions” were still “alarmingly high”.

Jonathan Naess, director of the user-led, anti-stigma charity Stand to Reason, welcomed the report, and said it shows a “remarkable increase in mental health literacy amongst business leaders and a greater willingness to recognise and talk about mental health”.

But he added: “On the other hand, shamefully, 40 per cent regard hiring a person with experience of mental distress in a customer-facing role as a ‘significant risk’ – just a six per cent change.

“The stubborn stigma that we are broken, tarnished or downright dangerous remains.”

20 December 2010

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