Partners across the North East have been trialling a programme that helps unemployed people with anxiety or depression to move into work. Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) describes whats been achieved across the region through partnership working and service integration.
We know that many people deal with barriers to work that go beyond skills and experience, and these often relate to mental health. We also know that we need to support people with their mental health issues if we want to help them into sustainable employment. Working together as a region, we wanted to pioneer an approach that brought employment support and mental health services together to help jobseekers tackle the two issues in tandem.
Blazing a new trail
The result was a two-year, £2.2m North East Mental Health Trailblazer project, jointly-funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the European Social Fund.
Northumberland Country Council has been the lead authority, managing the project on behalf of the North East LEP and our seven regional local authorities.
The project would support jobseekers with conditions such as anxiety and depression, to find work at the same time as undergoing treatments to improve their wellbeing. The Trailblazer began in January 2017, integrating specialist employment coaches into Talking Therapies teams across the region, with referrals coming primarily from Jobcentre Plus. Two years on, and the impact of this partnership approach has been significant.
Making a very real difference
At the point where the Trailblazer came to an end in December 2019, partners involved in the project had worked with almost 1,450 jobseekers, with at least 250 successfully supported into work.
The project has worked with hundreds of over 50s, many who were very long-term unemployed, and some inspiring success stories have emerged. One 52-year-old gentleman with social anxiety who hadnt worked for 20 years secured a job in retail. The success was made possible by a specialist employment coach and therapist working together to help him manage anxiety around change.
Another fantastic example was a young man with anxiety who found the transition into work so difficult he walked out on the second day. His employment coach worked with his employer to deliver additional support at work, and he returned to his job. He has since been promoted to a managerial position. Partnership working helped a very anxious young man to flourish in a sustainable career.
Targeted support remains a priority
Unemployment remains higher in the North East than in many other areas, and we know that this has an impact on demand for health services. Alongside this, we know that NHS mental health teams are stretched, with lengthy waiting times for support for those with depression or anxiety.
The positive outcomes that have emerged from the North East Mental Health Trailblazer tell us that this approach is an effective way to tackle mental health barriers and support more people into employment.
Our challenge now as a region is to continue to work together and find ways to deliver more integrated and targeted support.