The theme of this year's World Mental Health Day is wellbeing in the workplace. One in six employees is experiencing a mental health problem at work and the estimated cost of mental health problems to employers are currently estimated at £26bn each year. Together with Lord Dennis Stevenson, I am co-chairing the independent review of mental health in the workplace, which forms part of an important policy focus on mental health from the current government. The review, conducted in partnership with businesses and the public and third sectors, is examining how best to support employees with mental health problems, ensuring they can thrive and perform at their best at work. It will also look to promote employer best practice around mental health.
Role of universities as employers
Universities are of course both employers and educators. With just under half a million staff across the UK, the tertiary education sector should play a leading role in the promotion of wellbeing in the workplace. It is great to see the work that universities are already doing, for example through signing the Time to Change pledge. This demonstrates commitment to supporting the wellbeing of all staff to thrive and helping those experiencing mental health problems. But I encourage you to go further, taking best practice from other sectors and taking a fresh approach to mental health as central to the performance of all your staff and to the success of your organisations.
I would also like to encourage universities to submit their health and wellbeing practices to Public Health England (PHE) and help England's employers to identify promising and innovative practices.
Role as educators
Universities are starting to take student mental health seriously and it's good to see that it is also receiving attention from government. I welcome Universities UK's current initiative, the #StepChange framework, encouraging university leaders to see mental health as a strategic priority and to adopt a whole university approach to the issue. The framework rightly emphasises the importance of transitions – from home to campus, from school to university, from one GP to another – as times of stress and vulnerability for young people.
A report published today by Student Minds working in partnership with Universities UK, the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust and the City Mental Health Alliance, a group of major employers determined to improve their practice on mental health, looks at another major transition, the transition into work, and indicates gaps in the support available to students.
As workplaces look to improve what they do on employee mental health and wellbeing, universities will want to understand what works for graduate recruiters and graduates themselves in terms of mental health awareness and personal resilience. Just as employers may well start to select graduates based on their resilience and engagement with issues of wellbeing and mental health, graduates may choose their education and their future workplace according to similar considerations. For universities to grasp this generational challenge, to improve the lives of our young adults, consideration of the vulnerable transition points is a must. But more than that, it means bringing mental health from the periphery to the centre of what universities do.