The Economic Consequences of Inadequate Mental Health Support at Work

The world’s biggest professional health and safety membership organisation, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), reiterated the need for increased support of mental health at work, after the release of England’s Chief Medical Officer’s annual report on 9 September.

In the report, compiled at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies highlights the economic costs of failing to adequately provide for employees suffering from mental illness. According to the report, a total of 70 million working days were lost because of mental illness in the United Kingdom in 2013. And since 2009, the number of sick days lost because of stress, depression and anxiety has jumped by 24 per cent.

Estimates suggest that mental illness costs the UK economy between £70 billion and £100 billion in lost productivity, benefits payments and work absences every year, which equals 4.5 per cent of the UK’s GDP.

In addition to chastising the NHS for a woeful lack of funding—mental health support spending makes up only 13 per cent of the entire NHS budget, despite causing 28 per cent of illnesses—Dame Sally Davies’ report calls for more employer support. The report encourages implementing workplace mental health wellness programmes or offering some of the following general support:

• Give people with mental health problems the option of flexible working hours to keep them working and maintaining regular contact during sick leave.
• Require managers to initiate early and regular contact with employees during sick leave. By sensitively talking with employees on sick leave who are suffering from mental health issues, you can help them return to work earlier.
• Reduce the stigma of suffering from mental illness in the workplace by talking about it openly and periodically assessing employees’ mental wellness. By treating mental health with the same seriousness as physical health, employees will be more likely to disclose their condition.
• Offer temporary adjustments such as part-time work or altered work hours upon return from sick leave in order to ease the transition.

The sheer number of people suffering from mental health problems is astounding—according to Dame Sally Davies, one-quarter of all adults suffer some form of mental illness, and 60 to 70 per cent of people with common mental problems such as depression and anxiety are workers.

In the past, the public considered mental health problems a type of anomaly. Clearly mental health problems are much more widespread, and a proactive approach to supporting employees who may be shouldering this burden can improve the mental well-being of your employees and the financial well-being of your business.