Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has agreed to implement an upgraded programme of mental health support for the civil service's 420,000 staff following the publication of a new government-commissioned report.
The move will see departments introduce a set of core and enhanced standards aimed at ensuring that staff have the “the knowledge, tools and confidence” to understand and look after their own mental health and that of their colleagues.
It will also put more pressure on departments to ensure that they have support in place to prevent mental illness being caused or worsened by work, and equip those who have a mental illness to thrive.
The package of measures, which is built on recommendations in the just-published Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers, also proposes that departments should be monitored by their regulators and held to account for the quality of the support staff receive.
Titled Thriving at Work, the report suggests that mental health problems cost UK businesses up to £42bn a year in lost productivity, and could see 300,000 people with long-term conditions lose their jobs.
With specific relation to Whitehall, the report points to ongoing work in the civil service, including the “Five Strategic Priorities for Health and Wellbeing” which every department has signed up to, and the core offer of employee assistance programmes, occupational health, counselling and talking therapies.
But it says there is “variation” with regard to how widely and effectively the offer is promoted across the civil service, and recommends the civil service “reviews and enhances” mental health training for all grades and ensures all departments have a planned approach to ensuring employees get training appropriate for their role.
Heywood, who is head of the civil service in addition to his role as cabinet secretary, said “hundreds of thousands of civil servants across the country” would be helped by Whitehall’s latest commitment.
"Mental health is often a secondary or forgotten part of our wellbeing but its implications cannot be underestimated,” he said.
“Good mental health is essential for our wellbeing and paramount to a strong, happy and productive workforce.
"The civil service has committed to being the most inclusive employer by 2020 and I am proud to be one of the organisations leading a change in how we support good mental health in the workplace."
Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect union, said giving staff with the confidence to talk about mental health in the workplace was a “crucial first step” towards providing the help and support that they needed.
“We are already engaging with many employers on this issue and this has been a key priority for Prospect,” he said.
“Prospect has and will continue to engage centrally and at departmental levels in the civil service on this initiative. We have valuable experience to share and staff trust us.”
In addition to the civil service, the NHS has also committed to implementing the report’s core recommendations.
Prime minister Theresa May said she was writing to all metro mayors and key business groups including the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Businesses, to draw attention to the review and encourage them to implement its 40 recommendations in their organisations and across their networks.
The report’s authors are long-time mental health campaigner Lovrd Dennis Steenson and Paul Farmer, chief executive officer of mental-health charity Mind, and chair of the NHS Mental Health Taskforce.