Comment: Addressing Britain's mental health postcode lottery

Corporate advisers should feel more confident than ever about broaching the issue of mental health with clients

In 2009 Health Insurance used the Freedom of Information Act to investigate waiting times for counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in the NHS. At the time,patients were waiting up to three years for this form of treatment for depression.

Today, the number of areas reporting excessively long waits has reduced. This is a very welcome development, reflecting the increased investment in NHS mental health services and recognition at the top of Government that, to quote the Royal College of Psychiatrists, there can be “no health without mental health.”

Nevertheless, our latest research in this area, conducted over the past two months, shows that patients with depression continue to wait for more than three months for CBT in 28% of primary care trusts (PCTs). When it comes to counselling, patients in 41% of PCTs wait for this long – more than in 2009. In some areas, waits still exceed a year. The fact that in some areas talking therapies are available in a matter of days shows that this state of affairs can be tackled.

Certainly, the Government will be keeping a close eye on progress. The £400m extra investment in improving access to psychological therapies announced in February is expected to deliver £700m of savings in healthcare, tax and welfare gains by returning people to work between now and 2015. As extra therapists are trained and employed, the signs are good that waits will reduce further.

In the meantime, the research lends weight to the business case for employers to invest in funding access to talking therapies for the large number of employees affected by mental health conditions every year.

Conditions including stress, depression and anxiety are the leading cause of long-term absence in the UK, estimated to cost employers £1,035 per employee every year. As the mental health experts quoted in our report explain, a delay in treatment can result in deterioration and a delay in the return to work – a key facet of a person’s recovery in many instances.

There are signs that employers recognise this. The latest survey of employers from disability charity The Shaw Trust shows that only 11% believe that none of their staff will be affected by mental ill-health, down from 41% in 2006. The vast majority (90%) of managers say that they would be happy to discuss mental health issues with an employee. There is also evidence that employers are allocating employee benefits budgets accordingly. Access to counselling is now the most widely provided employee benefit, according to the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development. In fact, the organisation’s latest survey of employers suggests that the recession and redundancies that accompanied it acted as a catalyst to spur increased investment in access to counselling.

Against this backdrop, corporate advisers should feel more confident than ever about broaching the issue of mental health with clients. We hope that our latest research will encourage you to continue to educate employers about the value of providing access to therapy and to spread the message that it is good to talk.

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