Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Let's have Health and Safety for Mad...

I welcomed the announcement that mental health would have equal parity with physical health in the NHS. I also welcomed the Lib Dem policy of ensuring that this extends to equal treatment via waiting times, funding, and levels of available care. I do however feel that there is a massive hole in mental health strategy in this country, which no party is adequately addressing. I do think that my own party, the Lib Dems, could address it however.

During the industrial revolution there were a great many injuries/deaths in the workplace due to lax health and safety standards. One of the really positive outcomes of industrialisation has been the focus on improved health and safety in the workplace, in my view. There were also many deaths due to holes in medical knowledge, which have since been addressed through ongoing research and through the creation of the NHS, and also through improvements in things like hygiene.

Lib Dem policy on mental health is beginning to address the fact that mental health treatment is years behind physical health treatment in terms of research, priority, and access. What no party is really doing is addressing the other side of this equation, which is prevention. No party seems to me to be looking at how we can genuinely improve our overall wellbeing, and thus reduce the need for people to be treated for mental ill health in the first place.

This isn't entirely the case, of course. There is research into the causes of mental ill health taking place, and this helps with prevention. This has led to things like highlighting the danger of drugs and alcohol, as well as advice on diet and lifestyle. Diet and lifestyle certainly play a big part in physical health, and research has shown they play a part in mental health. Work around ending the stigma around mental health is also helping with recovery, reducing severity, and reducing recurrence.

These positive moves still leave a massive issue to be addressed, however, which is the interaction between the workplace and our mental health. Just as factories harboured many physical dangers during the industrial revolution, so do offices harbour many psychological dangers in the present day. Be it long hours, lack of sufficient down time, bullying, harassment, or stress, the culture of our workplaces can have a huge effect on our mental wellbeing and likelihood of ill health.

Many workplaces have begun to skate around the edges of this through stress management policies, and the odd billionaire has made headline grabbing changes that serve to empower workers to take control of their free time, but Government and the political parties have been far too silent on the subject of making the workplace psychologically safe for the employee in my view. This is perhaps because it may involve a level of intervention that would enrage millionaire donors.

A starting point for me would be to make Mental Health a protected characteristic in its own right within the Equality Act, but there's so much more that can and should be done. I want to see politicians looking at the whole culture of work and the workplace, at hours, at down time, at shift patterns, at workplace/office design, at the daily commute, at managerial structures, even at the strategic aims of companies, because all of these can affect our wellbeing.

Ironically, I suspect that doing this would be very popular with employees, but would horrify those who bankroll politicians, including the trade unions (who rely on continuing issues with employers to exist). Failing to truly look at the contribution of the workplace to mental health however will simply leave us in a situation where we steadily increase spending on treating the problem while barely reducing its prevalence, which for me is completely unsustainable in the long term.

No comments: