Mental health culture ‘risks normal anxieties’ being labelled illness | Politics | News

Britain’s approach to mental health is at risk of “going too far” with the “normal anxieties of life” being branded illnesses.

That is the view of the Works and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride as he outlined plans to get 150,000 people signed off work with “mild illness” to look for a job in welfare reforms.

Stride claims Britain’s welfare bill, which is set to surpass £100bn, is down to young people getting signed off work with mental health issues.

Stride did however say it is good that people who would “suffer in silence” are now getting help. However he warned that “as a culture, we seem to have forgotten that work is good for mental health”.

Speaking to The Telegraph, he said: “While I’m grateful for today’s much more open approach to mental health, there is a danger that this has gone too far.

“There is a real risk now that we are labelling the normal ups and downs of human life as medical conditions which then actually serve to hold people back and, ultimately, drive up the benefit bill.

“If they go to the doctor and say ‘I’m feeling rather down and bluesy’, the doctor will give them on average about seven minutes and then, on 94 per cent of occasions, they will be signed off as not fit to carry out any work whatsoever.”

Stride says some people were now “convincing themselves they have some kind of serious mental health condition as opposed to the normal anxieties of life”.

Stride has announced that as part of a crackdown, individuals with ‘milder problems’, such as social anxiety, will be required to take up jobs where they can work from home. He is also planning to revise guidelines so that only those with the most severe conditions can be signed off due to posing a ‘substantial risk’ to their health.

Rishi Sunak is committed to reducing the number of people signed off sick. He previously stated: “We should be encouraging everyone who can to work.

“We now have almost 2.5million working-age people who have been signed off as unfit to work or even look for work or think about working and I don’t think that’s right.”

According to figures released last week, two-thirds of incapacity benefits are given to people unable to work due to mental health issues.

Those claiming these benefits have an average of 2.7 health conditions each, leading experts to warn that the benefits bill could become increasingly costly as long-term medical conditions become more complex.

This follows the publication of data showing that the numbers on long-term sick leave from work hit another record high of 2.8m in the wake of Covid, sparking fears over the cost of benefits for those of working age

Ministers are separately investing an extra £2.3 billion a year in mental health services, including 380,000 talking therapy sessions under back-to-work plans.

Mr Stride made the remarks as he visited a sports centre in London to mark the Government’s flagship youth employment programme having been taken up one million times by 16-24 year olds.

The Work and Pensions Secretary praised young staff but warned that as a society “we’ve maybe lost a sense of what work has been about in the past”.

He said that he was “troubled” by social media trends such as “quiet quitting” and “lazy girl jobs” where youngsters brag online about doing the bare minimum.

“This speaks to something that’s inherently quite unhealthy and we need to have a good think about that,” he added.

His remarks came as MPs warned that benefits were too low to cover living costs and urged ministers to introduce an “uprating guarantee” so they rise every year.

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