42% of employees claim physical illness to hide mental health issues

By Jerome Smail

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Sep 28, 2018
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As many as 42% of employees call in sick claiming to be suffering from a physical illness when the real reason is a mental health issue, according to a report by health insurance provider BHSF.

The report, Hiding in plain sight: mental health in the workplace, published in September 2018, surveyed 1,001 full-time employees. The study found that over half of respondents (56%) suffered from stress, a third (36%) from anxiety and a quarter (25%) from depression.

Only 15% of respondents said they would tell their boss if they were struggling with mental health issues. Reasons for not divulging problems include fear of not being promoted, the information resulting in poor grading at assessment and being seen as a weak link in the team.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of employees felt that mental health was stigmatised by either all or some of their colleagues. 

Dr Philip McCrea, chief medical officer at BHSF, said: “The scale of this problem is huge, and it is being massively underestimated by employers, with employees feeling that they have to mask the issues they are facing.

“Although shocking, these findings don’t surprise me. This report must provide a reality check for employers who need to be more proactive and focus on early intervention. A more open culture must be created in workplaces across the UK, and employers have to take responsibility for this change.”

As many as 88% of respondents said work was either the main cause or a contributing factor to their mental health problems. However, only a fifth (21%) of employees received dedicated mental health support from their employer.

The average employee takes 8.4 sick days each year due to a mental health problem, according to the BHSF report.

Dr McCrea said: “Mental health is currently costing the UK economy billions, and the cost of non-intervention is far greater than the cost of intervention. It’s up to employers to take a proactive approach to managing mental health in the workplace before it’s too late.

“Developing early intervention strategies is critical. This includes the provision of mental health first-aiders, providing adequate mental health training for managers and resilience-building for employees, among other things.”

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