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Pandemic highlights North/South divide in mental health

More people in the south of England have said their mental health has worsened since the start of the pandemic (46%) than those in the North (39%), however Southerners are more likely to take time off to deal with it.

Around a third (34%) of people in the south of England said that discussions around mental health and wellbeing have improved, meaning they are now more likely to take days off when they feel the need to.

This is compared with just over a quarter (26%) of those in the North.

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Erica Roscoe, senior research fellow at think tank IPPR North, warned of misplacing the lower rate of mental health leave in the North as a sign more people are well.

Speaking to HR magazine, Roscoe said: “Today’s research should be considered in the context of what we know already, which is that there are higher levels of adults reporting anxiety or depression across the north of England – an area at the sharp end of the country’s regional divides. 

“Fewer mental health sick days being taken in the North does not imply that mental ill-health is less of a challenge in the region. More likely, there are other barriers – like a lack of access to sick pay – at play.”

The UK’s Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rate is among the lowest in the developed world and IPPR North is one organisation, alongside the CIPD, that is calling for its reform.

Roscoe added: People on low incomes are among those most likely to be affected by a lack of access to it. This must change if we are to avoid people working through illness and ultimately, potentially worsening their condition.

“And more widely, government must focus on prevention rather than cure, by investing in mental health services.”

Job uncertainty has had an impact on mental health.

Through the pandemic 46% of people in the South, and 32% in the North, said they had been more concern about job security.

As people spend so much of their time at work Sarah McIntosh, director of delivery at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, said employers have a responsibility to act.

Speaking to HR magazine she said: “Given that we spend a third of our adult lives in the workplace it makes sense that we should focus our energies there, changing the discourse around mental health to help bring about change more widely and removing the stigma of a mental health diagnosis.”

Vicky Walker, director of people at Westfield Health which undertook the research, said building psychological safety would be critical to improving employee access to mental health support.

Walker told HR magazine: “It’s important that we create a culture in the workplace where people, regardless of location, feel able to ask for help and feel supported, rather than suffering in silence.

“This is no easy task, but by implementing initiatives such as manager training on mental health, mental health first aiders and signposting further support. HR leaders can encourage employees to communicate openly about their health needs so they can better understand how to support them.”