Mental health problems are costing the UK workforce in absence and productivity –businesses need to help their staff tackle stress

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Everyday stresses can get on top of us all from time to time. Right now, one in six of us are dealing with a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or stress. And with employees working longer hours than ever, mental health issues among the workforce are prevalent.

Rather worryingly, there has been a 24% increase in absence due to stress since 2009. In the past five years alone, more than 13 million people in the UK have taken time off due to workplace stress. Unrealistic deadlines or workload is most often to blame.

Although mental health problems in the workplace are widespread, many employees don’t talk about it as it’s still regarded as a taboo subject. Many people feel scared and confused about confronting the issue at work. Recently, just 33% of staff said they would feel comfortable talking to their employer about a mental health issue.

The most common problems are anxiety, mood and stress disorders. Individuals with anxiety disorders react to certain situations with fear or dread, as well as physical signs such as rapid heartbeat or sweating. Common mood disorders include bipolar and depression. Depression involves persistent feelings of sadness and bipolar is a combination of mania and depression, alternating in cycles. And stress disorders involve distortion of awareness and thinking.

Thankfully, there are a number of options that can help support employees. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that helps people change the way they think and behave. CBT is one of the most effective treatments for conditions where anxiety or depression is the main problem.

Cigna recently introduced a Healthy Mind pathway that allows members to bypass their GP and refer themselves directly to a cognitive behavioural therapist.

Cigna customers also have the option to access an online self-help tool, Living Life to the Full. This online course is made up of a series of self-help booklets based on the principles of CBT. These courses are suitable for those with mild to moderate stress, anxiety and depression. Other resources can include employee assistance programmes or helplines.

Although many solutions exist, supporting employee mental health is a growing challenge for employers, too. Poor mental health in the workplace costs the UK around £26bn a year. Problems such as anxiety, depression and stress are leading to lost work days, high staff turnover and lower productivity. On average, 91 million work days are lost every year due to mental ill health.

Despite these concerning statistics, 83% of businesses believe they don’t have the skills or knowledge to identify when an employee is suffering from mental health issues. A study commissioned by Time to Change, found 56% of employers would not employ an individual who had depression, even if they were the most suitable candidate.

The same percentage also said they would like to do more to improve staff well-being but don’t feel they have the right training or guidance.

Early intervention is best. Managers need appropriate training so they can spot the possible signs of mental illness. Not only should managers have an awareness of symptoms, they should also be able to empathise with their staff and refer them to available tools and resources.

Creating a culture of health is vital to a company’s success. Employees who feel that the company they work for cares about their overall health and well-being are more likely to be motivated and are less likely to leave.  Educating employees to ensure they are comfortable accessing self-help tools or calling helplines is also vital.

There is still a stigma attached to mental illnesses, although they can be managed and cured with the right treatment, support and education. We need to tackle attitudes. Healthier people drive healthier businesses.

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