Working in the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has given me the opportunity to test an approach that helps to put our staff at the heart of what we do, and to understand the impact that poor mental health has on the workforce.
In the West Midlands, 4.1 million working days are lost each year through poor mental health with an estimated loss of £2 billion through economic inactivity. The human cost is equally challenging, with people exiting the workplace and – in extreme circumstances – taking their own life.
Working with Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, the WMCA and a constituted Wellbeing Board (pictured), has enabled us to shine a light on this issue. Understanding that health and wealth are two sides of the same coin, we sought to develop workplace programmes that not only create good work environments but are also testing new ways to get people into work who have poor mental or physical health conditions.
Every Mind Matters
Public Health England (PHE) is launching a new national social marketing campaign, designed to support adult mental health literacy and promote simple, proactive steps people can take to develop and maintain good mental health and wellbeing.
Every Mind Matters was piloted in the West Midlands and is a versatile resource that can be used in different settings alongside existing local services and wellbeing programmes.
PHE is encouraging councils and their partners to sign up for its free campaign resources ahead of the October launch of Every Mind Matters – see https://campaignresources.phe.gov.uk/resources/
Our ‘Thrive into Work’ programme is currently testing a supported employment scheme, working with primary health care professionals and businesses to recognise that people are at different stages of the ‘entry into work’ journey and that this continues even when someone starts a job.
Starting from a premise that good work can be good for you and that we spend a significant amount of our adult life in the workplace, we have also designed a workplace commitment – ‘Thrive at Work’.
Using a public health approach, we wanted to give employers the tools to support their staff and develop a supportive culture. This market is swamped with apps and tools. Our research showed that there was too much choice and the evidence base was limited.
Working with partners in the region, we developed tools that businesses can implement at little or no cost – but which can and do make a tangible difference.
Our programme aligns Mental Health First Aid, the ‘This is Me’ campaign and also supported the pilot of Public Health England’s Every Mind Matters digital campaign (see below). All these are designed to help us reduce the stigma associated with mental health and provide the tools to help keep ourselves well.
So what’s next? Our ambition is to make a small difference to the West Midlands by equipping people to be a little bit more resilient, responsive and restorative.
Ensuring we design our new houses and developments with wellbeing in mind, making sure our transport infrastructure supports an active travel agenda, working with the food sector to create a healthy weight region – all combine to help us build a happier, healthier and more prosperous region, and a place I am proud to call home.