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Workplace Wellbeing 2: The impact of mental illness on the workplace

Some useful statistics 

It has been estimated that nearly three in every ten employees will have a mental health problem of some kind in any one year.  By 2020 depression will become the second largest cause of disability in the world. 

Sadly, it has been estimated that only 11% of employees discuss mental health problems with their line manager as the fear of being discriminated against or even losing their job remains a very real concern.

Listed below are some statistics outlining the prevalence and impact of mental ill health on the workplace;

  • 676 million people are affected by mental health issues worldwide (World Health Organization, Health in 2015)
  • Mental illness is the largest single source of burden of disease in the UK. No other health condition matches mental illness in the combined extent of prevalence, persistence and breadth of impact. (Royal College of Psychiatrists. No health without public mental health: the case for action. PS4/2010)
  • Stress, anxiety and depression alone were responsible for 15 million working days lost in 2013 (Office for National Statistics. Sickness absence in the labour market: February 2014)
  • The direct annual cost to European businesses of depression alone is estimated at £77 billion due to lost productivity (Evans-Lacko S, Knapp M. Importance of Social and Cultural Factors for Attitudes, Disclosure, and Time off Work for Depression: Findings from a Seven Country European Study on Depression in the Workplace. PLOS one. 2014

There is an increasing focus on mental health in the workplace as the demands and pressures of modern life both inside and outside of work continue to rise and affect our wellbeing.

Key mental health legislation in the workplace

The main areas of legislation that relate to mental wellbeing in the workplace are:

  • The Health and Safety Work Act 1974 (HASWA): This Act presents provisions to ensure health, safety and welfare of persons at work. It establishes protection against health and safety risks in connection with work activities. It puts a duty on employers to assess such health and safety risks in the workplace. The Act is relevant to mental health in that it classifies mental issues arising as a result of work conditions as ‘personal injury’, and because it ensures basic rights in relation to healthy work standards.
  • Equality Act 2010: Under this act there is a legal duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments for employees with a disability. Therefore, employers are encouraged to make adjustments for staff who are experiencing mental health problems. A reasonable adjustment is an alteration that an employer makes which enables an employee to continue with their duties without being at a disadvantage compared to others. 

There is currently no legislation specifically related to mental health in the UK. Only 4 in 10 organisations have policies and systems in place to support common mental health problems with only 11% of the top 100 companies in Great Britain having disclosed information in their annual reports about their initiatives to support their employees’ mental health.

We just don’t know enough about how mental illness impacts the workplace. It is one of the biggest causes of sickness absence in the UK which impacts productivity. The UK has estimated the overall loss to the economy is £74 billion.

What can I do as an employer?

As an employer, it’s inevitable that some of your employees will be absent due to sickness or illness. This type of absence will naturally resolve itself, but for a small number of employees, sickness absence can lead to a much longer time off work.

The most common reasons for short-term absence are back pain and minor illnesses like flu and colds which are genuine reasons for absence, but most are likely to resolve within 7 days.

You can minimise the impact of work-related illnesses by recording and monitoring sickness absence and carrying out a risk assessment for your work activities. Line managers should complete fit to work interviews for all sickness absence, particularly absences under 7 days that do not require a doctor’s note.

You should avoid making return to work interviews a punitive and formal HR process, but treat them as an opportunity to explore any underlying issues, such as: workload demands, job security, work relationships and work-life balance with your staff.

Long-term prolonged physical health issues do impact mental health. We know people with long-term physical conditions are three times more likely to have mental health problems than the general population.

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