Nearly half of employees with mental health problems have felt suicidal at work



Experts call on employers to recognise wellbeing as an ‘asset’, as research estimates workers with mental health issues contribute £226bn to UK economy

Almost half (49 per cent) of employees who have experienced mental health problems in the last five years have gone to work while experiencing suicidal thoughts, according to a new study.

Research from the Mental Health Foundation, Oxford Economics and Unum also found that 4 in 10 (39 per cent) of line managers who had no history of mental health problems reported feeling ‘distress’ at work – a strong indicator of presenteeism, said the report. A further 5 per cent of line managers with no history of mental ill-health said they had gone to work while having suicidal thoughts or feelings.

Nearly half (45 per cent) of respondents who had experienced a mental health problem in the past five years did not tell their employer because of a fear of being discriminated against or harassed by colleagues (44 per cent), shame (40 per cent) and feeling that it is none of their employer’s business (45 per cent).

Although only 10 per cent of line managers surveyed for the report, Added Value: Mental Health as a workplace asset, felt they had sufficient training to deal with mental health problems at work, more than a third (34 per cent) of respondents who had been diagnosed with a mental health problem in the last five years said they had been well supported by their line manager.

The study also found that workers with mental health issues contributed £226bn to UK GDP last year, which is 12 per cent of the country’s economic output. This is nine times more than the cost of mental health issues to economic output – an estimated £25bn in gross value is lost to the UK economy because of the cost of mental health problems to individuals and to business.

Chris O’Sullivan of the Mental Health Foundation said: “It is critical that we move beyond assuming that a mental health problem is an individual issue. Mental health is an asset we all have, and that companies can and should nurture.

“We need to build mental health into the professional development of managers not just in recognising distress and responding with compassion, but also in providing ongoing support and in recognising opportunities to promote mental health across the workforce.”

Separate research from insurance firm Aviva found that 25 per cent of UK workers had taken a day off work because of stress, but used a physical illness as a cover up. But there are signs that the stigma around mental health is lessening; one third of respondents said they would now feel more comfortable talking about their stress and mental health problems than they would have done five years ago. Only 12 per cent said they would feel less comfortable talking about mental ill-health now than five years ago.

Steve Bridger, managing director of Group Protection at Aviva, said: “In 2016 people should not feel that they have to hide their stress away and suffer in silence. Feeling that you can’t be open about a problem is likely to make it worse, not better. People don’t raise an eyebrow if a colleague is off work with flu, but anything to do with mental health still appears to be taboo.

“It’s really encouraging to see that some people are feeling more comfortable and confident about being open on mental health in the workplace. That trend needs to continue.”

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