People with mental illnesses in Bedfordshire are far less likely to be employed than their peers, figures suggest.
Mental health charity Mind has called for more to be done to combat a striking national employment gap, saying hundreds of thousands of people with long term mental health conditions fall out of employment every year – many due to a lack of appropriate workplace support.
NHS Digital data shows that in March, the employment rate in Bedfordshire's working age population was roughly 82 per cent.
But for those who were mentally ill, it stood at just 53 per cent.
That means that the employment gap has widened slightly since the year before, when 54 per cent of people with a mental illness were in employment, compared to 80 per cent of the general population.
Across England as a whole, just 51 per cent of people with a mental illness were employed in March, compared to 75 per cent% of the working age population.
The figures are based on the Labour Force Survey – a study of people's employment circumstances – by the Office for National Statistics.
Vicky Nash, Mind's head of policy, campaigns and public affairs, said unemployment and financial insecurity could take their toll on a person's mental health.
She added: "People with mental health problems can thrive and make a valuable contribution to the workplace, but some staff will need additional support from their employer to reach their full potential.
"All too often a lack of understanding about employers’ legal duties under the Equality Act 2010 means that many disabled staff – including those with mental health problems – aren’t given the reasonable adjustments they need to excel in their roles.
"It's also really important those out of work are supported to find work suited to their individual skills and aspirations if and when they are ready."
Mind is calling for employers to become legally obliged to monitor and reduce health-related pay gaps and for Statutory Sick Pay to begin earlier to ensure ill employees do not work because they cannot afford time off.
A Government spokesman said SSP waiting days protect employers from the cost of short-term absences, and that many pay above the minimum level.
He added: “We understand those with mental health conditions may need different kinds of support and we offer specialist programmes paired with personal support from our Work Coaches and Disability Employment Advisors."
The Government has also committed to seeing a million more disabled people – likely to include some with severe mental health conditions – in work by 2027 as part of its Plan for Jobs initiative.
More than 20,000 employers have signed up to the nationwide Disability Confidence scheme, which champions inclusive recruitment practices, while the Access to Work initiative provides grants to disabled or mentally ill people to help ensure their workplaces are accessible.