127 million hours of work absence taken due to mental health

Mental health problems, including stress, depression and anxiety, are the leading cause of workplace absence in the UK after minor illnesses, research finds.

The report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that the number of days taken off work with mental health problems has increased 25 per cent year on year (2014 to 2015).

The data, which studies sickness absence in the UK from 2013 to 2015 inclusively, also finds that musculoskeletal, neck and back pain are top factors in employee absence among large corporates and small businesses.

The top reasons for sickness absence in the UK in 2015, based on estimated number of sickness hours taken (in millions) are stress, depression and anxiety (17), musculoskeletal problems (13.8), and neck and upper limb problems (9.4). 

Back pain (9.2 per cent), gastrointestinal problems (9.1 per cent) and respiratory conditions (5.5 per cent), are other common reasons for sickness absence.

Dr Mark Winwood, director of psychological services for AXA PPP healthcare, which looked into the research comments, ‘It’s interesting to see the ONS report and that the number of employees taking leave as a result of stress, depression and anxiety has spiked in the last year. This may seem like bad news but we should also take note of how many individuals feel more comfortable reporting mental health problems, which was once seen as a taboo illness to admit to.

‘However, there are still many unreported cases in UK workplaces, so we estimate the actual number of sickness days taken is sadly much higher than the ONS is reporting. Also we must remember that all of the other reasons for sickness absence on the list could have a psychological component that exacerbates or causes the symptoms experienced.’

Employee health is a vital aspect of success, especially for small businesses in their first few years of operation; maintaining a safe, approachable and inclusive workplace that will make workers feel valued is key to combating mental health problems in the office.

Dr. Winwood continues, ‘Looking after the physical and psychological health of employees should be of paramount importance to employers, and the benefits are significant. Fit and happy employees with good jobs will be more engaged, their effort and creativity is likely to be higher and they are less likely to have accidents.

‘Employers don’t have to take on huge costly health programmes to help manage mental ill health – simple, small steps can be very effective.’

Further reading on employee health

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the Smallbusiness.co.uk and Growthbusiness.co.uk titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the Express.co.uk.

Related Topics

Absence and Absenteeism

One reply on “127 million hours of work absence taken due to mental health”

  1. I wonder if the large proportion of musculoskeletal and neck/back problems are related to poor posture and so on in desk jobs?

    I’m actually surprised there aren’t more vision-related sick days taken, although I suppose that’s less of a sick-day issue.

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