Mental health issues account for one in three work absences

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Being off sick because of psychiatric causes is now the most common reason, and there was a 14 per cent rise in fit notes (sick notes), related to anxiety and stress between 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 – a statistic that the Royal College of Psychiatrists called “alarming” in their NHS Digital report.

Over 12 million fit notes issued over nearly two and a half years were analysed, and this is the first time that this type of information had been collated from GPs for analysis.

Chief Executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, 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’.”

The report also stated that fit notes for issues relating to mental health were being issued for longer periods than any other type of illness. Over one in five fit notes lasted for longer than 12 weeks, compared to three per cent of notes for respiratory diseases.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists have emphasised the need for more support to help return people to work who are struggling. Jed Boardman, of the RCP, said: “GPs will write suggestions on the fit note, such as staggered work days or agreeing specific goals for the returning employer – both parties need to be more active in tailoring these suggestions to that person.”

A spokeswoman from the Department for Work and Pensions, said: “We’re helping thousands of people to remain in, or get back into work after a period of ill health.

“We’re determined to go further, and these statistics will provide us with a better understanding of why people take sickness absence in different areas across the country.”

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