Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and Active Health Partners survey finds mental ill health is UK’s second largest cause of sickness absence

Mental ill health is the second largest cause of sickness absence in the UK, with hundreds of thousands of people taking time off with stress, depression and anxiety, research has revealed.

The findings come from a study of the absence records of 30,000 employees, working across 40 different organisations, by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and absence management specialist Active Health Partners.

The number-one cause of time lost owing to sickness absence is musculoskeletal conditions. But it is the statistics on mental ill health that are most startling.

Government figures show there has been a big increase in the number of people claiming benefit over the past 10 years who have mental health problems. In the mid-1990s, 25% of those on incapacity benefits were recorded as having a mental health condition. By 2005 this had risen to 39% of 2.7 million claimants.

The CIPD findings highlight the huge impact mental health problems have on the workplace:

  • An employee suffering depression takes on average 30 days off.

  • The average length of time off work for someone suffering from stress is 21 days.

  • An employee suffering with anxiety takes 21 days off on average.

Ben Willmott, CIPD employee relations adviser, said: “This research shows how important it is for managers and HR practitioners to be aware of the signs of mental ill health so they can take action early and provide support before the individual’s condition deteriorates to the point they go on long-term sick leave.”

The CIPD wants the government to introduce tax incentives to encourage more employers to offer occupational health services to employees.

“Just as crucially, GPs need to work more closely with employers to identify opportunities for a phased return to work for individuals suffering mental health problems in less demanding or reduced-hours roles as part of their rehabilitation,” Willmott said.

Mental ill health results in long-term absence

  • Public sector employees take on average 24 days for each mental health-related sickness absence, compared with 20 days for private sector employees.

  • Employees up to the age of 25 take on average 17 days for each absence, rising to an average of 36 days for employees in the 55-65 age bracket.

  • Men take on average 20 days for each spell. Women take on average 22 days.

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