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Targeting Credit Crunch Related Stress

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A package of measures to help unemployed people who are experiencing depression or anxiety to get back to work were announced today by Health Secretary Alan Johnson and Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell, including greater provision of talking therapies and a new network of employment support workers.

Speeding up the roll out of talking therapies will provide better access to the services. A greater number of people who are on long-term sick leave or unable to seek employment due to depression will be helped to recover so that they are ready to go back to work.

Around six million adults in the UK have depression or anxiety and many of these remain on incapacity benefits as they are unable to seek work. In past recessions, we have seen the number of out-of-work people on inactive benefits rise, so this is one element of action being taken to prevent this happening again.

The new measures to enable the NHS to support people back to work include the development of complementary services to increase the availability of debt advice and family counselling, highlighting the vitally important role can played by the public services in supporting people through the economic downturn.

Mr Johnson today announced that the government is investing an extra 13 million euro. This will fund:

* A faster roll out of talking therapy services around the country throughout 2009 with services beginning to be available in every area by 2010.

* Employment support workers linked to every talking therapy service, providing job support for people with common mental health problems and help people back to work.

* Health advisers on a dedicated NHS Direct phone line being trained to spot people who might be experiencing depression because of economic problems and refer then to help.

* Better online advice and information about the availability of services near to people's homes through NHS Choices

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At the same time, PCTS will be encouraged to use up to ?80m of savings made by the NHS due to the temporary reduction in the rate of VAT to commission complementary services - including debt advice and family counselling - wherever there is local need.

The investment will also provide more training for staff in primary healthcare teams, helping them to recognise mental health problems that could be due in part to the economic downturn. The NHS is being encouraged to work with local partners to develop the public's skills in managing their mental wellbeing as a life skill.

There is not yet any indication that the economic downturn is having a negative impact on disadvantaged people in the labour market; in fact, the numbers of people on Incapacity Benefit are still falling. But the Government is determined to act to prevent people falling into long-term worklessness.

Talking therapy pilots Newham and Doncaster saw 5,000 extra people in 2007/8, with average waiting of only two weeks after a clinical decision to treat, down from an NHS average of around 14 months. More than half those treated by the Newham and Doncaster services achieved measurable recovery, in line with NICE evidence from clinical trials, and the number going to work rose by 10 per cent.

Alan Johnson said: "In the current economic downturn, the potential exists for more people to become anxious or depressed and experience lower levels of mental well-being.

"If someone is feeling down after losing their job, then the best solution is a new job and we're helping people to find them wherever possible. But in some cases, depression and anxiety can be a barrier to getting another job.

"No one should be left in any doubt about where to turn. That's why I am going further and faster to make sure that services are in place to support people affected psychologically by the recession. The NHS as a whole will be better equipped to recognise these issues and refer people to appropriate treatment or support."

James Purnell said: "When times are difficult people need more help not less. We know from previous recessions that simply pushing people onto inactive benefits can lead to a life time of dependency.

"We will do everything we can to support people during these difficult times. We are working across Government to give people with mental health conditions the help they need to stay in or get back to work."

The Department of Health has already set up 35 talking therapy services around the country and a further 81 are due to come on stream this year. The Department of Work and Pensions are piloting employment advisors strategically co-located at 12 of those service centres and a new network of employment caseworkers will ultimately ensure employment support across every service nationwide.