Mental capital and wellbeing: policy impacts

Mental ill-health costs the economy £77 billion a year in England alone, according to an pioneering study by leading stress and wellbeing expert Professor Cary Cooper of the Centre for Performance-Led HR and four other distinguished scientists.

Cooper was appointed lead scientist on the Mental Capital and Wellbeing Foresight project, commissioned by the UK Government Office for Science to inform its vision and future policy.

The Foresight programme aimed to address key challenges identified by the government as likely to have a major impact over the next 40 years on working patterns and lifestyles. These include shifting age demographics, changes in the global economy, new science and technology as well as changing attitudes, values and expectations.

Evidence-based policy recommendations

Over the two years of the project Cooper and his colleagues commissioned more than 85 international science reviews to assess what factors influence individuals’ mental health right across their lives, and interacted with key stakeholders from government departments, the private sector and professional organisations.This research is the first in the world to develop both evidence-based policy recommendations and a cost-benefit analysis that shows the financial impact of those policies on organisations and the wider economy.

The findings were disseminated to the highest levels of government, including the Department of Health, the Department of Work and Pensions, the Department of Education and the Permanent Secretaries. They were also published as a book, Mental Capital and Wellbeing.

The results informed the 2011 cross-governmental white paper ‘No Health Without Mental Health’, which sets out shared objectives for improving mental health and wellbeing and improving services for people with mental health problems.

The research has also informed a change proposed under the Children and Families Bill to allow parents with children up to the age of 17 to apply for flexible working arrangements. This has only previously only been possible for those with children aged 6 or under.

Internationally the findings were presented to the European Commission, the Dutch Advisory Council on Health Research and the Swedish government and to professional institutions such as the Chartered Institute of Professional Development and the Confederation of British Industry.