Third of sick notes are given out for mental health issues, claims NHS study

One in three signed off cases of absenteeism in the UK is related to mental health problems, with more than five million Britons being signed off work for conditions including anxiety, according to an NHS study of fit notes issued by GPs over a 28 month period. The number of workers signed off sick or put on restricted duties because of stress and anxiety rose by 14 per cent in the most recent year according to the report. Mental health and behavioural conditions were the most common reason to be off work, making up 31 per cent of cases, followed by musculoskeletal conditions. The NHS Digital report, running to March 2017, said in 2016-17 there were 573,000 cases of people off sick with anxiety and stress-related conditions, compared with 503,000 cases the previous year.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, said: “These figures explain why the NHS is now putting mental health front and centre, in what was recently independently described as ‘the world’s most ambitious effort to treat depression, anxiety and other common mental illnesses. When it comes to mental health, what’s good for patients is also good for taxpayers, because untreated mental health problems directly affect work, unemployment and benefits.”

The Government introduced the controversial fit note system in 2010 with the stated aim to encourage employees back to work more quickly and with appropriate adjustments to take account of their mental and physical health.

Patrick Watt, Corporate Director at Bupa UK comments: “It’s a real cause for concern that mental health is now the number one reason people are signed off work. We’re seeing a newfound openness where people feel more comfortable to talk about their mental health. And, many businesses give the mental health of their employees the same focus that they do for physical fitness. This is encouraging, however, we all need to do more to break down the stigma that can still exist.

“The Government review into mental health practices in the workplace, led by Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer’s Review is due to be published this Autumn and will shape how employers approach workplace wellbeing. The workplace provides an ideal opportunity and culture to tackle this stigma, where mental health is openly talked about and employees have confidential help and support, when it’s needed, is key for all businesses – large and small.”