Spotlight on the link between physical and mental health
One in five UK employees with a physical health condition also have a mental health condition, according to research carried out by The Work Foundation. And those employees with mental and physical health comorbidity are much more likely to struggle with their health affecting work: 29% are affected ‘a great deal’ compared to 13% of those with a physical condition only and 15% of those with a mental condition only.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, a clear distinction is often made between ‘mind and body’, but when considering mental health and physical health, the two should not be thought of as separate:
“Poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems. Similarly, poor mental health can negatively impact on physical health, leading to an increased risk of some conditions.”
The Foundation states that there are various ways in which poor mental health has been shown to be detrimental to physical health.
“This is because people with mental health conditions are less likely to receive the physical healthcare they're entitled to. Mental health service users are statistically less likely to receive the routine checks (like blood pressure, weight and cholesterol) that might detect symptoms of physical health conditions earlier. They are also not as likely to be offered help to give up smoking, reduce alcohol consumption and make positive adjustments to their diet.”
There is an increasing call on healthcare professionals to consider psychological wellbeing when treating the physical symptoms of a condition and vice versa. Likewise, this highlights the importance of employers giving sufficient support to employees, whether they are suffering from physical or mental illness or both, in order to avoid one problem leading on to another.
This means talking more openly, particularly about mental health. When considering how businesses move forward in creating a more mental health-aware workplace, the World Federation for Mental Health, in its report on this year’s campaigns, quotes employer Nigel Jones, Partner in Linklaters and Board Member of the City Mental Health Alliance. He says:
“Culturally it’s still much easier to talk about our physical health… than to talk about suffering from stress, anxiety or depression. It’s time to change this. At Linklaters, we have taken the opportunity to mark World Mental Health Day each year and to stress the importance of good mental health to all our people.”
Jones encourages employers to:
- consider how investing in people’s health and wellbeing fits with your organisation’s culture, values and people strategy;
- invest in developing the skills of line managers to deal effectively with mental health issues; and
- find people who are willing and able to tell their personal stories of dealing with illness.