How Merton Uplift’s employment advisors help take the worry out of work

If you’re suffering from anxiety, depression or low mood, your job – or lack of one – can be a major factor in your recovery. For many people too, work is the source of the stress that made them unwell in the first place, with the prospect of returning a real barrier to better mental well-being.

The talking therapy service Merton Uplift, provided by South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, has its own employment advisors. They help people tackle work issues alongside their therapy and after it has stopped. Merton Uplift works with a range of partners, including GPs, social prescribing link workers and voluntary sector organisations such as Age UK Merton, the Polish Family Association and Wimbledon Guild.

Work is such an important aspect of people’s lives

Ashley Painter is one of the employment advisors. He explained: “Work is such an important aspect of people’s lives; it’s their structure, their routines, their identity. So, when there is a problem with work, it causes deep anxiety. If we can overcome that, if we can help them get their issues sorted, they are more likely to be, what we call ‘reliably recovered’.”

Over the three years that the service has operated, more than 1,200 people have been helped to find a job, return to their existing employment or change career altogether. “There’s a real need for it,” says Ashley. “In April alone we had 34 referrals in one month, all but three people with job retention issues.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a big factor in work-related stress

With huge changes to people’s employment status and ways of working, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a big factor in work-related stress. This was the case for Gail. Aged 63, she had been with her employer for a few years in a senior role. She had struggled with the shift to working from home and was facing a performance review – and worries about the financial implications of losing her job. Gail was also working alongside much younger colleagues and, in discussions, it became clear that much of her stress was a result of age-discrimination.

Her employment advisor helped her rethink her options and rewrite her CV. She was able to find a new role that was local and less stressful in a totally new field. Wellbeing surveys showed her anxiety scores improve, measurably and rapidly.

She said: “The care and guidance I received from Merton Uplift enabled me to manage the stress I’d been under and the employment support helped me rethink my future.”

People find it’s good to have someone to talk to outside their social circle

According to Ashley: “A lot of people also find that it’s good to have someone to talk to outside their social circle and family. They can be a bit more honest and open with us.”

Andreas is a 23-year-old man who became anxious and withdrawn after dropping out of university. He was under pressure from his family to find a job or return to his studies. Through therapy, Andreas discovered that a trigger for his anxiety was the constant need for phone scrolling.

Working with an employment advisor, Andreas found a job in the hospitality industry, while he thought about his long-term future. The routine, contact with co-workers and time away from his phone meant Andreas thrived in a role that made use of his aptitude for problem solving and working with people.

Says Ashley, “We also help people stay well at work and to try and recognise and avoid the things that trigger their anxiety. We help them in practical ways but also to use the techniques of therapy in real life, so they don’t become ill again.”

Find out more about Merton Uplift on its website. South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust also has talking therapy services in Wandsworth and Sutton.