The Chief Medical Officer calls out for action on mental health

In March this year the CMO for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, published her annual report. In it she focused on obesity and the possible links between sensory impairment and dementia. She also mused about the effect of popular culture on eating disorders and the harmful effects of alcohol. So the most salient themes were to do with health psychology and mental health in itself. The trend is that most conditions that now cause concern are mental or behavioural in nature: harmful use of alcohol, obesity, eating disorders, dementia. It seems to be our behaviour and culture that might be getting us into trouble rather than environmental hazards or nasty infections that we have no treatment for.

Prof Davies, CMO for England

Prof Davies, CMO for England

One aspect that went unnoticed at the time were her comments on how anxiety and depression are causing more and more people to call in sick at work. She has been making the rounds with this new message and the media outlets seem to be paying attention. She was featured today on sky news, the BBC and the guardian.

I am very pleased the CMO is being so outspoken on what a big problem mental health is at present and how much it gets ignored. She makes a call in various media for mental health to have parity with physical health. To my mind that is the wrong way to think about the whole thing. The problem is that we still insist on separating it out. Of course it should have parity with physical health! Newsflash: mental health is physical health. Instead of affecting your liver or your lungs it affects a different organ: the brain.

Prof Davies throws out some interesting numbers in her report:

  • Mental illness cost the UK economy up to £100bn last year
  • There has been a 24% increase in the number of working days lost to stress, depression and anxiety since 2009.
  • Seventy million working days were lost to mental illness in 2013.
  • Seventy five percent of sufferers never had any help

She said: "The costs of mental illness to the economy are astounding. Through this report, I urge commissioners and decision-makers to treat mental health more like physical health.

"Anyone with mental illness deserves good quality support at the right time."

"One of the stark issues highlighted in this report is that 60-70% of people with common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety are in work, so it is crucial that we take action to help those people stay in employment to benefit their own health as well as the economy."

Virtually Free's mission is to develop solutions to prevent and treat mental health problems that are accessible and affordable. We are currently working with a few corporations and organisations like the Professional Cricketers Association and Telefonica O2 that are spearheading the efforts to look after their own work force's mental health better. We are inspired by these early adopters that are taking action well ahead of the curve.

Get in touch if you are also thinking about making a difference to your own work force.