Economists officially pinpoint the moment that the recession hit the UK as the second quarter of 2008. Any financial downturn is, of course, going to bring with it an elevated level of stress and anxiety. The job losses – cited by the Telegraph in 2011 as having reached 2 million – along with an increased level of job insecurity further enhances this. Indeed, in 2010, it was reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that the suicide rate had increased for the first time in a decade.
The relationship between the two elements – recession and mental illness – does, however, run much deeper than this. Not only has the economic crash catalysed an increased mental strain, which can lead to an enhanced level of psychological complications, but too there is a correlation between the impact of the recession and existing mental illness.
Mental Illness Sufferers Impacted Most
Recent research by Kings College London suggests that the growth of unemployment levels within those affected by mental illness has outpaced those unaffected. The difference is not only a slight one either, with statistics stating that unemployment levels within those affected by mental illness have risen by more than twice the amount of those without any existing psychological ailments.
This research was not only related to the UK either, but rather covered 27 countries throughout Europe. The overwhelming consensus by the researchers being a warning that the recession is having an exaggerated impact on those suffering from mental illness. This escalation is said to also have been enhanced by negative attitudes and the stigma attached to mental illness in certain countries and cultures.
The study also discovered a correlation between education and the likelihood of suffering from some kind of mental illness. Those who finished education before 20, or who took part in no form of further education, are the most likely to be affected. This, in turn, is creating a correlation between education and the impact the recession is having – with those less educated suffering the most.
What Protection is There?
With such a damning report, it is crucial that anybody suffering from any form of mental illness is aware of the protection available to them and the rights they have as an individual. This is especially true when it comes to employment.
First and foremost, anyone suffering from any form of mental illness should not be discriminated against – as is the case with sex, race, sexual persuasion and appearance. Mental illness often has only a very limited impact on how capable a person is of conducting their duties at work, and understanding your rights is a key component of ensuring that you maximise your impact, contentment and health at work.
The mental health charity, Mind, have created a legal briefing, in order to inform individuals suffering from mental illness exactly what their rights are and what disability discrimination entails. This includes advice on how to determine what is happening, how to deal with it and when you are in a position to take things further.
Getting Back to Work After a Mental Health Induced Absence
As crucial as it is for individuals suffering from an ongoing mental health condition to be aware of their rights, it is also important for any of the numerous people who take a long term absence from work because of mental or emotional health. Indeed, approximately half of all long term absences from work are as a result of mental health issues.
This can be a particularly daunting experience, with the Royal College of Psychiatrists stating that the majority of people feel that a return to work will only amplify symptoms of their illness. On the contrary, however, research suggests that returning to work can actually boost your health, whereas not being occupied can be detrimental. This is as a result of improved purpose, friendships, finances and social standing.
One important thing to remember when returning to work, is that you don’t need to immediately be firing on all cylinders or taking on all of your prior responsibilities. It is also worth speaking to your GP, as well as a specialist company providing expert psychology services, to determine how you should approach the transition back into work. This will also assist in ensuring that you are aware of all of your rights, should any issues occur.
The key aspect of making your transition back into work successful is to be transparent and to communicate clearly with both your employers and health professionals. As a result of the Equality Act and the Disability Discrimination Act, you have a right to expect your boss to make certain concessions in order to ensure your transition back into work is smooth. This includes flexi hours, peer support and a space you can go to rest.
What if There is No Job to Go Back to?
If you are not in the position of being able to go back to a previous job and are thus needing to find something new, the transition can be even more daunting. Again, however, it is important that you make the most of all available services. The government runs an ‘access to work’ scheme and it is also worth considering volunteering or part time work as part of the transition. This can help to build your confidence, at the same time as building up your CV, experience and areas of competence.
Again, the key aspect of this is being honest to yourself and those around you. At times like this, you need to accept your vulnerability as a human being more than ever and be honest about your fears and limitations. In this way, you will slowly be able to accept what you have been through and come out the other end a much stronger person for it.
Dr Dorothy Ojarikri has been working for mental health charities for many years. She initially began volunteering in the sector after a long term absence from work as the result of a mental breakdown. She used ‘Expert Psychology Services’ to get her back on her feet and recommends them, as they are both BPS and NCPIP certified.
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