More than 260,000 people are claiming sickness benefits because of mental and behavioural disorders, a recent analysis has argued.
The crunching of statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions by insurer Legal & General has found that this number of people are claiming employment and support allowance (ESA) because of mental and behavioural disorders, an increase of more than 29% since 2010.
In May 2011, 265,530 people were claiming ESA because of mental and behavioural disorders, against 205,700 claimants in May 2010.
Of this number: more than 27% were aged between 35 and 44, up again more than 29%; more than 23% were aged between 24 and 34, up nearly 28%; and the largest percentage increase (66.9%) was in the 60-plus age group.
Diane Buckley, managing director of Legal & General Group Protection, said: "The fact that there are more than 260,000 individuals claiming sickness benefits for mental and behavioural disorders is concerning. These figures show how important it is for employers to provide good quality support for people in the workplace."
In a separate development, it has been suggested that a quarter of businesses do not offer counselling to help staff cope with stress.
PMI Health Group has argued that, where services such as counselling are provided, it is imperative to clearly communicate this to both employees and their line managers to help ensure the services are properly accessed when required.
"Stress is the biggest cause of long-term absence in this country, so it is necessary to take appropriate steps to reduce its effect," said PMI Health Group compliance director Mike Blake.
Researchers at the University of Nottingham and the University of Ulster, meanwhile, have concluded that employers need to focus more on work-related stress during times of austerity, as the number of staff taking time off work because of stress is said to increase by 25%.
The study, among tens of thousands of civil servants in Northern Ireland, found that one worker in four experienced work-related stress in times of recession.
Further, a US study has argued that work-focused psychotherapy can help employees to return to work sooner.
Employees on sick leave with common mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety returned to work full time quicker when therapy was put in place that dealt with work-related problems and how to get back on the job, according to the study published by the American Psychological Association.
Employees who received this therapy and achieved a faster return to work also did not suffer adverse effects and showed significant improvement in mental health over the course of one year, according to an article published online in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.