Nine in 10 GPs have reported an increase in patients suffering work-related stress and anxiety since the pandemic began, prompting a renewed call for employers to make mental health a priority.
A survey of 250 GPs commissioned by benefits platform Perkbox found 92% had seen rising numbers of people seeking medical advice for work-related mental health issues, with 68% agreeing they had seen a further increase in the past three months.
The problem was more prevalent among employees aged 16 to 24, with 64% of GPs seeing an increase in mental health concerns in this age group.
Eighty per cent of GPs said they were preparing for a further rise in requests for stress and anxiety support, with the most common reasons for the strain including financial security (cited by 45% of GPs), returning to the workplace (43%) and increased workload (39%).
Four in 10 patients seeking work-related stress and anxiety support had been signed-off work, GPs said.
Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Manchester, said: “Pre-pandemic stress at work was the leading cause of long-term sickness absence, with the HSE [Health and Safety Executive] reporting in 2019 that 57% of long-term absence was due to stress, anxiety and depression.
“The pandemic has obviously exacerbated this trend, with people worrying about their job and financial security, returning to work with Covid still active, and the prospect of fewer people in the workplace (due to downsizing) meaning heavier and unmanageable workloads.
“The fact that GPs are seeing this in their surgeries is worrying, but important in alerting employers and government to recognise and develop strategies to deal with it. The mental wellbeing of employees should be a strategic issue for all employers.”
The Censuswide survey for Perkbox also involved 2,017 employees who were asked what might help improve their mental health.
Fifty-five per cent wanted to see greater flexibility in their working hours and 56% wanted more benefits and rewards from their employers.
Asked the same question, 42% of GPs agreed that flexible working hours would improve employees’ mental health; 37% said employers should provide manager training on supporting mental wellbeing; and 30% wanted to see the provision of wellbeing tools and information.
Perkbox CEO Gautam Sahgal said: “Alongside a better work-life balance, giving people a choice of health-focused activities and tools can help them prioritise their mental health day to day. That can range from access to mindfulness apps and yoga sessions to money management training and more effective recognitions of achievement.”
GPs themselves are also struggling with their mental health, with the practitioner health support service and the British Medical Association’s helpline both experiencing record numbers of doctors seeking help.
The BMA helpline received 290 calls from GPs in July this year, compared with 109 in 2020 and 97 in 2019. NHS Practitioner Health has also hit a new record of GPs coming forward with mental illness and saw 73 new GPs register in a single week earlier in September.