New data which has been released following an NHS investigation has revealed that one in three sick notes handed out by GPs are for mental health problems. This means that mental health is now the most common reason for people to take time off work, ahead of musculoskeletal diseases.
Even over the period of just one year, the number of employees being signed off for anxiety and stress were found to have risen sharply. 573,000 cases were reported in 2016/17 compared to 503,000 the previous year.
Women continually account for more than half of the total number of sick notes issued from a low of 53.8% in August 2015 to a high of 57.3% in January 2017.
The NHS Digital Report also found that sick notes for psychiatric problems are being issued for longer periods of time than other types of illnesses. One in five people who are signed off for mental health are off work for at least three months.
These alarming figures mean that in total, more than five million people across Britain are being signed off work every year because of anxiety and poor mental health. As a result, The Royal College of Psychiatrists has urged GPs and employers to do more to help those who are struggling.
Speaking on behalf of the college, Dr Jed Boardman said that both parties need to be more pro-active with regards to coming up with suggestions to help people to deal with these issues and get them back to work. He commented:
“If anything, this new data may underestimate the scale of the problem. Almost half of benefits claimants of Employment and Support Allowance in England are receiving payments as the result of mental and behavioural disorders.”
Although a ‘fit note’ system was introduced by the Department of Work and Pensions in a bid to get people back into work quicker, figures show it isn’t working.
The system is supposed to improve access to treatment and find ways to make pressures more manageable by adjusting work hours and responsibilities but it has been found that people are still simply being signed off. Just one in 20 fit notes have been found to make recommendations for changes that can be made.
Dr Steve Mowle from the Royal College of GPs said that the rising figures may be down to the fact that attitudes towards mental health are changing and with less stigma surrounding the issue, more people feel they can speak out about it. He also emphasised the importance of trying to get people back into work as safely, appropriately and quickly as possible. This is because studies have found that working is beneficial to our long-term physical and mental health and wellbeing.
The latest mental health statistics
- One in six people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each week.
- In 2015/16, 19,481 calls were received by Childline from children experiencing suicidal thoughts.
- Nearly 10% of the entire population of Britain meet the criteria for diagnosis of mixed anxiety and depression.
- 41% of people who are referred to talking therapy face a three month wait between referral and treatment.
- Despite the growing number of children and adults experiencing mental health problems in the UK, mental health trust budgets were cut by 8.25% between 2011 and 2015.
If you think that you or someone you know may be experiencing difficulties with their mental health, please feel free to visit our Depression and Anxiety Treatment Programmes page for more information about the signs, symptoms and treatments which are available. Alternatively, if you would prefer to speak to someone, you can contact us in the strictest of confidence.