How to lower the cost of mental illness on your business

An email dropped into my inbox this morning, reminding me that it’s Time to Talk Day. It’s a day when we’re encouraged to be open about mental health, partly to help remove the stigma that surrounds it.

Personally, I’ve never had any problem talking about my own mental illness. In fact, I sometimes write about it as a way of helping me to understand it.

But there’s one aspect that I do think needs to more discussed, and that’s the financial cost. Whichever way you slice it, mental illness has a financial impact, not only on sufferers but also on their families and their employers. Indeed, the Centre for Mental Health calculates that mental health problems cost employers some £35 billion per year, or £1,300 for every employee in the UK.

I believe a lot of that expenditure is needless. Take my own case. For the best part of five years I’ve been treated (wrongly) for Major Depressive Disorder. I’d go to the GP, be prescribed an increased dose or a different type of antidepressant, begin to recover a few weeks later and then relapse worse than ever before.

And those relapses got longer and more expensive. I could barely get out of bed, let alone concentrate or work. On many days I’d be too frightened to answer the phone or even leave the house. In fact, I worried that I would harm myself if I left my bedroom. So I’d stay there and try and sleep through it.

It took nearly five years for a psychiatrist to pinpoint that I was actually on the bipolar spectrum. It was something I had suspected for a long time, not least because I had read that treating the condition with antidepressants could make it worse.

So now I take a mood stabiliser, and it seems to work. I’m clear-headed, productive and my depressive and hypomanic symptoms seem – thankfully – to be in check. And importantly I once again have the focus and drive to work, and to work to the best of my ability.

I share this with you, not because I want sympathy – I don’t. I’m sharing it because there’s a strong chance that you are an employer, and that some of your employees will be among the one in four who develops a mental health problem at some point in their lives. And if they do, it will not only be expensive for them but it will be expensive for you – particularly in terms of lost productivity and absenteeism.

So what can you do to minimise that risk?

From my experience, I know that it can be very difficult to get the right treatment from the NHS. Getting referred to specialist mental health services is nigh-on impossible unless you are suicidal or an immediate risk to other people. Worse, many GPs don’t feel confident enough or qualified to diagnose illnesses like cyclothmia or type 2 Bipolar. And that means, for many people, that they won’t get the right treatment and they will finder it much harder to get back to work.

The only reason I got the right diagnosis in the end was because I was covered by my wife’s private medical insurance. It’s a scheme part funded by her employer, and it meant I could afford to see a private psychiatrist.

If I had had access to that treatment earlier, I could have been consistently working and being productive years ago.

Now imagine that had happened to one of your employees. How much would it have cost you in lost days, sick pay, costs to cover the sick person and so on? The answer is probably a small fortune.

If you want to minimise these costs, my advice would be:

  • Offer your employees a private health insurance scheme. It will help them get the right treatment and get them back to work faster.
  • Be alert to the signs of mental illness, and consider getting training to help you do so. The earlier you can get someone to seek help, the faster they will be treated and less serious their condition will be for their work. The charity MIND has good advice in this area.


So, now I’ve opened up the conversation about mental health in the workplace, why not open it up with your employees too? And if you want to learn more about introducing a private insurance scheme, talk to THP so an accountant can advise what kind of scheme might fit your needs.

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