Work can have an extremely positive influence on people’s lives, including those with mental health problems. It has the potential to be therapeutic, promote recovery, lead to better health outcomes, reduce the risk of poverty and improve quality of life. By contrast, being out of work or in a poor work situation can be detrimental for physical and mental health and overall wellbeing. In this context, work refers to paid and unpaid full- and part-time work.
For a small number of people, perhaps 5 to 10%, work may be bad for their health and work-related stress can contribute towards mental health difficulties. The beneficial effects of work depend on the nature and quality of the work, and the support that workers have from their colleagues and employers. However, in general, ‘good work is good for you’.
A major study into workplace wellbeing by Mind has revealed that poor mental health at work is widespread, with around 48% of all people surveyed saying they have experienced a mental health problem in their current job.
The majority of people who experience mental health problems want to work, whether in a full-time, part-time or voluntary capacity. Unfortunately, they may face a wide range of barriers which prevent them from working, such as lack of self-confidence, dealing with the side-effects of medication, the cyclical nature of some mental illnesses, lack of skills and up-to-date experience, and lack of understanding and possible discrimination from employers on the grounds of their condition.
Support to get into work
For people who want to find a job, support is available within mental health services, supported employment schemes, and mainstream employment services. This is known as ‘vocational support’ and includes a wide range of activities. For example, people might attend a pottery class to get back into training and learn timekeeping skills, complete an IT course to learn work-related skills, take on voluntary work to gain experience of being in a workplace, or carry out paid work in a supported work programme. There are a number of services in Sheffield for people who are out of work at the moment:
- Zest for Work– employment and training support, work club, and volunteering opportunities
- First Step Trust – runs social enterprises to provide work and training opportunities for people excluded from work because of mental health issues or other disadvantages
- Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust User Employment Service- support through the job application process, help with finding job opportunities, drop-in sessions, employment issues workshops
- Remploy Sheffield– finding jobs in mainstream workplaces for people with disabilities, which includes those with mental health problems.
Support to stay in work
There is also support for people who are working but who are having difficulties staying in work due to their mental health problems. Sheffield Occupational Health Advisory Service (SOHAS) is a charity that works with employed and unemployed people to support them with work-related mental and physical health issues. Advisors work in GP surgeries around the city. ‘Work Choice’ is an employment support programme managed by Sheffield City Council, which supports people who have ill health or disability to stay in work. Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Trust has a User Support and Employment Service, which offers individually-tailored ongoing support to people with mental health problems who need help getting into or staying in employment. Remploy Sheffield exists to promote sustainable work for disabled people, including those who experience mental health problems. There are also Disability Employment Advisors based in Job Centre Plus and occupational health advisors working in some GP practices.
Getting back to work and finding employment after a period of illness can be very daunting and the range of support can appear complex and confusing. Contacting one of the organisations listed in this guide could be a good first step. Citizens Advice Sheffield offer advice on how getting back into work will affect entitlement to benefits.