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Mental health problems at epidemic levels

Fifty-seven percent of UK employees have experienced a mental health problem. Depression and stress are the most common mental health issues among UK workforce. One in four blame high pressure and excessive workloads for negative workplace impact on mental health; 20 percent of sufferers too embarrassed to take time off for mental illness. Stigma still exists as one in six non-sufferers believe treating stress like a physical illness is an “over-reaction”.

Over half (57 percent) of UK employees have suffered from mental health problems while in employment, according to new research from Canada Life Group Insurance. This is a telling sign of the prevalence of mental health issues, with stress (43 percent) and depression (26 percent) the most commonly experienced problems. Figures from Canada Life Group Insurance in the first quarter of 2015 highlighted depression as the fastest-growing reason why people use the employee counselling helpline included with their group income protection product.

Of those who experienced mental health issues, half (51 percent) have taken time off from work as a result. 14 percent took longer than a month off, including 5 percent who were off for more than 6 months. In addition, three in five (60 percent) said their mental health issues have negatively affected their performance at work. Failure to tackle mental health problems in the workplace not only affects employee wellbeing, but also impacts productivity.

The findings also reveal that working environments can have a negative impact on mental health.  One in five (19 percent) of all employees say their workplace has had a negative impact on their mental health, with the most common causes being high pressure and excessive workloads (both 25 percent). Workplace bullying or unpleasant behaviour from a boss is also cited by 15 percent as a cause of mental health worries. 

Table 1: How the workplace negative impacts mental health

 * percent among those who agree work has negatively impacted their mental health

Mental health sufferers too embarrassed to ask for time off work
Those suffering with mental health issues often feel too embarrassed to ask for time off, or even choose not to tell their employer. 44 percent of those experiencing mental health issues have wanted to take time off but felt unable to do so. One in five (20 percent) chose not to not ask for time off due to feeling embarrassed, while 9 percent were afraid that their employer would treat them differently as a result. 11 percent were too scared to ask their employer.

Over half (53 percent) have not made their employer aware of their mental health problems, with privacy (49 percent), worrying their employer might think they can’t do their job properly (17 percent) and embarrassment (11 percent) being the three key factors behind this. One in five (18 percent) were also too embarrassed to tell colleagues, highlighting the stigma that remains around mental illness. This is particularly relevant to the findings of the High Court in Easton v B&Q, as employers have a duty of care to their employees but need to be made aware of their suffering before they act if it is not otherwise foreseeable. Furthermore, two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents who discussed a mental health problem with their employer felt the interaction was positive, with two-fifths (39 percent) also being offered support.

Stigma of non-physical illness present among UK workforce. Although 52 percent of those who haven’t experienced mental health problems acknowledge there is stigma attached around it, some worrying perceptions still exist: 16 percent of non-sufferers agreed with the statement “everyone gets stressed and to treat it like a physical illness is an overreaction”. One in ten (ten percent) believe people place too much emphasis on the seriousness of mental health.

Some non-sufferers are still uncertain about the need to take time off work to recover from mental health issues. Almost one in ten (9 percent) of those who have not experienced this said they would feel sceptical if an employee took time off work for a mental health problem and 6 percent would feel frustrated by the extra workload this would create for them. Paul Avis, Marketing Director of Canada Life Group, comments: “It’s evident far more needs to be done to combat mental health problems in the workplace, and recognise it deserves equal footing to physical health. Stress and depression are serious issues and need to be treated as such. The implications of ignoring mental health, or seeing it as less important than physical health, are hugely damaging to employee wellbeing and business culture.

“Too often mental health is swept under the carpet and ignored – either because of the stigma surrounding it or a lack of employer procedures in place – despite being something that affects more than half the UK workforce at some point in their working lives. It’s therefore vital that employers have a clear and well-communicated method of helping employees with mental health problems. Services such as Employee Assistance Programmes and vocational rehabilitation – an integral part of most group income protection products – can play an active role in aiding treatment and recovery. “It’s in the interest of all employers to not only provide a safety net for those suffering with mental health problems, but crucially to be proactive. Tackling these issues early will give the best results for employees’ wellbeing, in turn boosting their productivity.” 

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