Mental illness accounts for half of workplace illnesses

New figures from the Health and Safety Executive show that 17m days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety

29th November 2022 about a 3 minute read
“The impact of the pandemic has been tough on us all and the intensifying cost of living crisis will only serve to compound those stresses." Simon Blake, chief executive, Mental Health First Aid England

Mental ill-health – principally stress, depression and anxiety – accounted for more than half of all work-related cases of health in the last year, according to a new report from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The report found that an estimated 914,000 people suffered from mental illness related to their work in the year 2021-22. In total, 17m working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, equating to an average of 18.6 days lost per case. Stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health

The main work factors cited by respondents as causing work-related stress, depression or anxiety were workload pressures, which included tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.

“In the recent years prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the rate of self-reported workrelated stress, depression or anxiety had shown signs of increasing,” the report says. “The current rate is higher than the 2018/19 pre-coronavirus levels.”

Simon Blake, the chief executive of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, said: “The impact of the pandemic has been tough on us all and the intensifying cost of living crisis will only serve to compound those stresses.

“Having said that, one silver lining from the pandemic is that we began to talk more freely about our mental health and support one another. As a nation, we are on a journey to develop our understanding of mental health.

“We must use that understanding to create healthier workplaces and communities so we can also seek and signpost to mental health support when we need it.”

Managers of small businesses struggle

A recent study from the University of York and King’s College London found that managers of small businesses were struggling to balance employee needs with the demands and wellbeing of the wider workforce.

After carrying out in-depth interviews with managers, researchers found that one employee’s mental ill-health could have an impact on co-workers in small and very rapidly affect the entire workforce. The close-knit social and physical proximity of small workplaces increased the impact on colleagues.

The study showed that small and microbusiness managers rarely had access to advice and guidance from occupational health or human resource management departments, as is usual in larger organisations.

Similarly, the option of redeploying an employee struggling with a mental health problem to other duties, as might happen in a larger firm, was not an option in small and microbusinesses.

Dr Jane Suter, from the University of York’s School of Business and Society, said: “When dealing with a colleague’s mental health challenges, managers can often feel incredibly isolated. It can take an emotional toll on the managers themselves. Some feel that balancing everybody’s needs is like juggling on a tightrope”.

FCC Insight

It’s concerning to see that the incidence of workplace-related mental health problems, which was on the increase before the pandemic, is continuing to rise. It is unsurprising that the mental health of health and social care associate professionals has notably worsened in recent years. We need better, swifter treatments for mental health problems, but we also need to tackle the root cause. Employers could benefit from developing strategies to make sure that staff are not overburdened with unrealistic expectations and deadlines. Putting employees under pressure through overwork is counterproductive, leading to working days being lost through mental ill-health.