Fewer than 20% of mental health patients in East and West Suffolk employed
Fewer than 20 per cent of adults in contact with mental health services in two Suffolk districts in March were known to be in work, figures reveal.
The Mental Health Foundation charity says it fears the effect rising unemployment in the coronavirus crisis could have on the nation’s mental health – particularly the impact of the end of the furlough scheme in October.
The latest NHS figures show just 525 (15 per cent) of the 3,605 adults in contact with mental health services in the NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area at the end of March were known to be in paid employment.
It's a similar picture in West Suffolk, where just 275 (14 per cent) of the 2,035 adults were known to be in work.
Employment details for 1,250 patients in East Suffolk and 980 patients in West Suffolk were unknown, while the remainder were either unemployed or were economically inactive, a category which includes students, retirees and the long-term sick or disabled.
Across England, just seven per cent of the 660,041 patients in contact with services were known to be in work.
Lucy Thorpe, head of policy at the Mental Health Foundation, said she was very concerned about the growing number of people losing their jobs in the pandemic.
She said: "There's strong evidence that unemployment puts us at much higher risk of mental ill health, including depression and anxiety, as well as physical health problems.
"The longer people are out of work, the greater this risk is."
The NHS's five-year plan for mental health, published in 2016, said stable employment is a key factor in maintaining good mental health, with mental health problems disproportionately affecting the unemployed.
The plan states: "Employment and health form a virtuous circle: suitable work can be good for your health, and good health means that you are more likely to be employed.
"The NHS must play a greater role in supporting people to find or keep a job."
Research by the Mental Health Foundation found unemployed people were more likely to report experiencing mental distress during the pandemic than the general population – 21 per cent said they had had suicidal feelings in the past two weeks compared to 10 per cent for the public as a whole.
The charity has called on the Department for Work and Pensions to provide free, targeted psychological support to unemployed people.
Ms Thorpe added: "The response to this should be much broader than anything the NHS can do.
"The whole of the UK government must get involved, by giving people greater financial and physical security, so they need not fear eviction, hunger, destitution and consequent suffering for their children and other family members.
"It’s very important that the Government should focus action on this, particularly now the furlough scheme is ending, and there is no end yet in sight to Covid-19 or its widespread impacts on people’s lives and livelihoods.”
The DWP said it had provided £5 million of additional funding for mental health charities and was doubling the number of work coaches in its jobcentres from 13,500 to 27,000.
A spokesman added: “Our work coaches, case managers and team leaders receive mental health training and deliver support tailored to the needs of the individual while working closely with local organisations to provide specialist support where it is needed."