Skip to main content

Working for Better Mental Health

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Frontline work, New techniques

Research shows that people with mental health conditions are more likely to experience unemployment, poverty and poor physical health throughout their lives. In this article, Thomas Smith, policy advisor in the Department for Work and Pensions, describes the innovative work his team are doing, in conjunction with the Department of Health, to help more of those dealing with these issues to access and stay in employment.

Since 2010, working closely with mental health experts and campaigners, the Government has been committed to raise awareness and tackle poor mental health across our society.

This includes, for the first time ever, giving mental and physical health conditions equal priority in law; providing an extra £120 million to help implement the maximum waiting time standards for mental health services from this year; and investing an additional £1.25 billion over the next five years to improve children and young people’s mental health.

Overall, the money going into mental health has increased by £302 million in 2014/15 from £11.7 billion in 2013/14. At the same time, more people than ever before are receiving talking therapies. Over 3 million people have entered treatment through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, with more than 1 million people able to manage their condition more effectively.

Furthermore, raising awareness amongst employers through the Disability Confident campaign and the work of the Government-backed Time to Change campaign are examples of policies that have made a real difference, both in helping to transform attitudes and in tackling poor mental health.

Despite these positive steps, there is still more that needs to be done.

Tackling Stigma

We still hesitate to talk to each other about our mental health conditions openly and honestly.

In large part, that’s down to the stigma that stubbornly lingers around this issue.

For too long, mental health conditions have been seen as a sign of weakness: something to be hidden and somehow less deserving of sympathy than physical illness.

Yet, we know that at least one in four of us will experience mental ill health each year (with 75% of adult mental health problems beginning by the age of 18).

Indeed, this is an issue that affects us all – if not personally, then someone we know, work with or love.

But out-dated prejudices continue to leave many people living with mental health issues feeling isolated, alone or unable to get the right treatment at the right time.

As a result of these problems, the Government has focussed on new and innovative approaches to improving people’s mental health, based on the sound evidence of academics, researchers and trusted economic and health organisations.

One such example is the world-leading joint work pioneered by the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health.

Supporting Recovery

This joint work is based on research which suggests that, where appropriate, employment can aid the recovery, rehabilitation and long-term health of people with common mental health issues, reducing the risks and harmful physical, mental and social impacts of long-term incapacity for those affected.

As Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, recently said: “work can keep people healthy as well as help promote recovery if someone falls ill.”

In other words – appropriate work can be good for the health of those with mental health conditions.

Building on this, the DWP and DH have been leading a pioneering series of voluntary mental health pilots across the country: to identify how better coordination of mental health and employment services could help thousands of people improve their mental health, whilst finding and staying in work.

Considering that around a quarter of Jobseekers Allowance claimants and almost half of Employment and Support Allowance claimants suffer from anxiety, depression or other common mental health conditions, there are potentially huge health, wellbeing and economic benefits to these pilots.


 Each of these pilots has tested a different approach of combined health and employment support. For example, whether a week of focused group work could help boost the employment prospects and wellbeing of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants who are not participating in the Work Programme and struggling with their job search.

Another pilot is testing early access to supported Cognitive Behavioural Therapy online; while another provides telephone assistance that integrates health and employment advice.

In addition, DWP and DH are looking at the viability of providing specific combined mental health and employment support, such as IAPT and tailored employment services, to test whether such a combination offers better improvements in health outcomes and benefit off-flows than either usual Jobcentre support or usual IAPT support for claimants with common mental health conditions.

The early findings from all of these pilots emphasise the importance and clear health, wellbeing and economic benefits of closer collaboration between frontline services, like Jobcentres, health care professionals and other specialists to help people in their recovery: showing that clinical intervention on its own is not always enough.

Critically, many of those selected to participate are already starting to see positive changes, taking the first, important steps they need to get their lives back on track.

These pilots are due to be completed in the near future and, once they’ve been evaluated, DWP and DH will look to replicate the benefits they’ve generated across services: delivering higher employment, better mental health and reducing the £70 billion per annum that mental health issues cost us as a society.

Taking those important next steps

 Through the joint work of the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health, the Government has shown that it can be a world leader in helping those with mental health conditions get the support they need, and at the right time.

Such work highlights that improving the country’s mental health must be tackled by all Government departments and public and wider sector organisations continuing to work more closely together.

What has been achieved so far represents steps towards culture change and a break with how mental health has been treated in the past - but they are small steps on a long road, and, as such, there is still more that needs to be done.

Fortunately, the problem is not insurmountable and Government has shown that it can make a positive difference, both now and in the future.


Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by margaret coyle posted on

    I am delighted that finally people with mental health issues are recognised as people with a valid illness, most people with mental health issues are a lot more likely to harm themselves than other people. Being able to openly talk about your problems without being painted as some sort of monster or told - this is recaction I get - pull yourself together!! think positive!! use willpower , is such a relief. Ironically one of the people who made my younger life hell now has a much worse mental condition than I had and now expects the looney to be more understanding than anyone else!

  2. Comment by Anonymous posted on

    How about tackling mental health discrimination within the DWP? The performance system includes a behaviourial aspect. Recently we were given guidelines on what you need to demonstrate to get an "Exceeded" marking. These guidelines include the following, "Display a positive attitude on a day to day basis which impacts positively on team spirit, morale and motivation". Does that mean that a manager could mark you down for coming in depressed or anxious? Are there any safeguards to ensure that people with mental health problems are not marked down on the basis of, say, one incident rather than a pattern of behaviour? Does it matter what someone's attitude is if they meet or exceed their targets every day? What level of training are line managers given for dealing with people with a mental health condition?

    • Replies to Anonymous>

      Comment by sarahalliday posted on

      Anonymous, we're so sorry for the delay in replying to your comment. As with the others relating to internal practices, we will flag it to the appropriate team in DWP for their response. All the best, the CSQ team

    • Replies to Anonymous>

      Comment by S posted on

      It's not just in DWP, it's throughout the civil service...I am a trade union rep andI I have had to defend a manager against a bottom box marking in PMR due to his behaviours being less proactive and positive than his colleagues - he still completed all the duties that were expected of him, but the chap was suffering from severe depression and psychosis and had spent time in hospital following a suicide attempt. no understanding whatsoever was shown by the management team.

  3. Comment by Christine Mattin posted on

    ADHD and Autism including Aspergers needs to be included, we need access for these clients to learn coping skills in work, from professional areas whom specialise in these conditions to enable our clients to find sustainable employment.

  4. Comment by Caroline posted on

    Is the department aware that Alchol & Drug dependancy is recognised by the world health organization as a mental health issue also. In most cases the dependancy is just a symptom of the underlying cause.

  5. Comment by Sean Nelson posted on

    Despite this it is still a fact that DWP staff are routinely referred for dismissal decisions when absences for mental health conditions reach 28 calendar days even though it often takes longer than this to determine the most effective combination of medication.

    • Replies to Sean Nelson>

      Comment by sarahalliday posted on

      Dear Sean, we're sorry for the delay in publishing and responding to your comment. But we will pass your feedback on to the relevant team in DWP. Regards the CSQ team

  6. Comment by Tan posted on

    What are the goverment doing for their own staff who work with a mental health condition daily and afraid to take time off because of the sickness process and the stress that causes.

    • Replies to Tan>

      Comment by sarahalliday posted on

      Tan, thank you for getting in touch and please accept our apologies for the delay in publishing and responding to your question. We will pass this on to the relevant team in DWP for an answer. Regards, the CSQ team

  7. Comment by Caroline posted on

    Further to my earlier comment.Is the department aware that some staff as are a proportion of society lacking empathy and understanding in all of this field. I still work with colleagues who titter at the very mention of mental health,depression and addiction. Poo pooing it as nothing more than an excuse. i attended a voluntary workshop within my particular rtemit of work and can honestly say it was one of the best if not the best presentaions I have ever attednened.

  8. Comment by chris bury posted on

    At the Test Service Centre in Chorlton, Manchester, we tested a new role called Personal Support Adviser (PSA) which targeted customers on ESA. This was a type of early intervention put right at the front of the customer journey (a call would be made the day after they claimed) and was a tailored service based on the customer’s needs. We found that approx. 70% of people suffered from anxiety and depression and that these customers were very receptive to what the PSA could offer, which ranged from Labour Market advice to signposting to appropriate providers. The role was telephony based and had a 68% take up rate, which was fantastic compared to business as usual and, in turn, had a positive effect on customers coming off ESA. The trial has now come to an end but certainly yielded results worth pursuing. If you would like further details, please contact me.

  9. Comment by sarahalliday posted on

    Message from the Mental Health Policy Team
    Tan, Sean, Caroline and Anonymous - Thank you very much for taking the time to comment on our article. This covered the Unit for Work and Health's pledge to invest £43 million over the next three years to test - through a series of voluntary pilots - how best to improve the wellbeing and employment outcomes of people with mental health conditions.

    As your comments concern DWP's internal HR policies, we have therefore passed your points to the relevant HR team in DWP. Please accept our apologies for the further delay, but they will endeavour to reply to you within the next week.

    If you have any further questions, concerns, or just want to know a little more about the work we are doing, please feel free to email us at:

  10. Comment by Anonymous posted on

    I work in HMCTS. I was put on the sick by my GP for work related stress after being forced into a role by my Line Manager which I had explained I would not be able to cope with the stress of due to suffering from depression. When i returned to work the same Line Manager issued me with a written warning about my sick leave. How is that supporting your staff!!!

  11. Comment by Anonymous posted on

    I had a similar experience. where I was given an informal warning whilst still off sick with depression.

  12. Comment by Alan Colquhoun posted on

    PIPs do not properly deal with Mental Health issues. I'm afraid that "whoever" is in charge of Health & Welfare has the attitude that Mental Health Issues can be cured with either medication, counselling or both. Such a broad spectrum being conveniently shrunk into the hands of assessors with clipboards. As in society so shall it be in the workplace. It seems that the Powers that Be can do whatever they want.