Behind the headlines

The social exclusion unit has gained a reputation for
scrutinising some of the most difficult social challenges of the
day. Teenage pregnancy and the country’s most deprived estates are
just two of the issues it has had in its sights. Now mental health
is set to be the next “major new project” for the SEU. Visitors to
Community Care LIVE last month heard social exclusion
minister Barbara Roche announce a consultation with professionals,
service users, communities and businesses on the best way to help
people with mental problems back into work. She said the aim was to
“build on the new deal for disabled people and the National Service
Framework for mental health.” The renewed focus on mental health
and employment is an implicit acknowledgement by the government
that this group potentially makes a sizeable contribution to the
workforce, with one in six adults having a mental health problem at
some point in their lives. “The stigma attached to diagnosis can
sometimes be more disabling than the illness itself,” Roche

Karen Squillino, primary prevention co-ordinator,

“Mental health problems affect a large proportion of society but
they remain a taboo subject among the public. Being labelled with a
mental health problem can be as debilitating as the illness itself.
Employers need to develop an awareness about mental illness and
understand that individuals living with mental health problems can
be effective in the workplace. It’s a case of peeling back the
labels in order to see the whole person and the qualities they have
to offer.”

Martin Green, chief executive, Counsel and Care for the

“In principle I think it is a good thing to encourage people with
mental health problems back into the workplace, but the scheme
requires very careful planning and a lot of involvement and support
from mental health professionals so that people are not just dumped
and left with no support. The scheme will also require a lot of
understanding, time and support from employers, and the government
must make sure that there are proper resources to support

Peter Beresford, professor of social policy, Brunel

“It’s great that the government aims to improve mental health
service users’ access to employment. Having a job is a major
priority for many service users. But stress at work and
employment-related problems are increasingly identified as a major
cause of mental health problems. Long hours, job insecurity,
bullying, and health and safety problems must all be targeted
strategically by government if service users are to be able to stay
in employment and no new recruits to the psychiatric system

Bob Hudson, principal research fellow, Nuffield Institute
for Health, University of Leeds

“We know that most mental health service users want real jobs, not
workshop-style positions, and we know that supported employment
schemes are much more effective than pre-vocational training
programmes. For a start, the public sector can put its own house in
order by employing service users in competitive jobs where
appropriate. It’s useful that the issue is to be given separate
attention, but the real need is for action rather than a lengthy
period of consultation.”

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth

“This is mad. Government policy is split down the middle. The
Mental Health Bill promises dangerous new powers of detention, by a
wider range of less qualified staff, and increased capacity for
containment with 70 new beds at Rampton and a new wing at
Whitemore. In this context, it’s hard to be upbeat about the SEU
consultation on employment, but mental health trusts could lead by
example and establish a culture where it is safe for staff to
declare mental ill-health, and where there are supportive policies
and practices such as those at St George’s Hospital in London.”

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