Tens of thousands of people with mental health problems offered work coaching by NHS

A pilot programme offering employment advice to people off work with mental health problems is to be extended to everyone who attends NHS Talking Therapies

17th January 2024 about a 4 minute read
“If your mental health is suffering, it can have a huge impact on your work, family and social life. Making sure we have that support available 24/7 for people who need it is crucial not only for people’s wellbeing, but for our economy.” Maria Caulfield, minister for mental health

An NHS programme to help people with mental health problems back into work has so far supported more than 40,000 people, data shows.

The pilot programme links people with mental health problems to employment advisers, who can help with writing CVs, setting career goals, and giving them the confidence to apply for vacancies.

The government is encouraging more people to sign up for the service. By March next year, every person accessing NHS Talking Therapies will be offered the chance to benefit from employment advice.

Maria Caulfield, the minister for mental health said: “Our ambition is to improve the lives of thousands more people by helping them early on with their mental health and getting them back into work. NHS Talking Therapies are key to this.

“If your mental health is suffering, it can have a huge impact on your work, family and social life. Making sure we have that support available 24/7 for people who need it is crucial not only for people’s wellbeing, but for our economy.”

Employment can help reduce anxiety and depression

The NHS national health director, Claire Murdoch, said that this time of year can be particularly difficult for people with mental health problems. She added: “Seeking help through an NHS Talking Therapies Service can be one of the best steps someone can take to overcome their mental health issues and get back on track.

“As part of treating people’s mental illness, the NHS supports people to achieve their goals including getting people back to work, with research showing that employment can help improve symptoms of anxiety or depression.”

Although research suggests that getting back into work can boost mental health, a study has found that workplace initiatives to improve wellbeing are not associated with an improvement in employee mental health.

Dr William Fleming, a research fellow at the University of Oxford, analysed data from the 2017 and 2018 waves of Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey. These surveys had 46,336 respondents working for 233 different organizations that were mostly office-based or service-based. The survey asked whether the respondents participated in any of 90 employee wellbeing programmes falling into one of the following categories:

  • Volunteering or charity work
  • Mindfulness classes
  • Resilience, energy or stress management classes or programmes
  • Wellbeing app addressing physical health, mental health and lifestyle
  • Massage or relaxation classes
  • Workload or time management training
  • Coaching (one-on-one sessions on mental health and well-being)
  • Financial wellbeing programmes

The survey also asked questions to determine the respondents’ self-assessment of their wellbeing and life/job satisfaction. This included questions based on the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (SWEMWBS), the Utrecht work engagement scale-9 and the Kessler Psychological Distress Scores.

Volunteers reported better wellbeing

Respondents were asked to rate statements such as “there is good collaboration between staff”, “relationships at work are strained”, “I have the training and tools I need to do my job well”, “I feel like I belong here”, “I have unrealistic time pressures” and “my organization supports me to manage stress at work”.

Fleming found that none of the wellbeing interventions offered had any association with any improvement in employee well-being – with one exception.

That exception was volunteering. People who volunteered for charitable causes offered by their workplaces did, on average, report better wellbeing.

Fleming concluded that his findings “pose a challenge to the popularity and legitimacy of individual-level mental wellbeing interventions like mindfulness, resilience and stress management, relaxation classes, and wellbeing apps. I find little evidence in support of any benefits from these interventions.”

He added: “The finding that volunteering opportunities are good for workers’ wellbeing suggests that more tied to civic society, providing more meaningful work. It also suggests an alternative win-win model of wellbeing that is more collective and relational.”

FCC Insight

The numbers of people who are out of work because of chronic illness are now very high. Because many of these have mental health problems, the government’s pilot programmes aims to help them get back into work by offering employment coaching. While it is encouraging to see that 40,000 people have been supported so far, we have no information about whether people have been successfully helped back into the workplace. As the research by William Fleming into workplace programmes suggests, mental health problems can be deep-rooted and complex, and small-scale interventions are not always effective in improving wellbeing.