Council workers in England and Wales took more than two days off work on average because of stress last year, costing local authorities more than £500m.
The figures published by the Local Government Association (LGA) revealed council employees took almost five million days off in total for mental health problems including depression or anxiety, the equivalent of more than 13,300 staff being off every day.
With local authorities set to be firmly in the firing line for public sector cuts under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, tackling absence is likely to be a key priority for local government in the coming months and years.
The LGA said nearly a quarter of the 9.6 sick days each worker took off each year was for stress-related conditions, although it also argued that local government had one of the lowest rates of sickness absence for any part of the public sector.
The figures come as union Unite launched a campaign to tackle stress and stress-related absence in the not-for-profit sector.
In April, it launched a year-long campaign to eradicate stress-related ill health in the sector, with the union estimating more than 90% of voluntary sector staff feel their mental health and wellbeing is being undermined because of the financial crisis facing charities.
The campaign will run until the union’s national conference in November, and will include a poll of more than 2,500 union reps in the sector to gauge the scale of the problem, as well as the promotion of various stress management tools.
A key element will be to encourage employers in this sector to put “best practice” policies and procedures in place and to ensure that staff with work-related stress are provided with “appropriate support”, said the union.