Mental health is estimated to cost the UK economy more than £37 billion a year and this number is not going down. It is also an international problem, with data from the OECD showing that people with mild to moderate mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, are twice as likely to be unemployed.

Fear is one of the biggest problems for Corporate UK in tackling stress. The typical British answer to most enquires about our welfare or health is “everything’s fine” when, looking at the statistics, quite clearly it’s not. We believe that we need to work much harder at improving and developing a more open culture, where addressing mental health issues is seen as a positive.

The three main areas of which employees are fearful:

  • Going to their GP thinking they might then mark their health record and make this public at some point in the future: they won’t.
  • Going to their employer who might listen but just see them as a problem: they shouldn’t.
  • Contacting an EAP counsellor who might help them, but then contact their employer with details about their situation: they won’t.
We believe that greater awareness of the role that GPs play, and a positive approach to dealing with mental health in the workplace is the way forward.

While there can be many causes of stress, money worries can play a significant part: leading to insomnia, high blood pressure, anxiety and severe depression.

Stress remains one of the biggest causes of absence, and this is backed up by what we see in practice. In general, those companies that offer fewer benefits to their employees are more likely to suffer from higher absence rates. Those companies that have healthcare & protection policies in place to look after their staff, coupled with a Financial Education programme, are better placed to offer support. And, most importantly, those employers that actively encourage utilisation of those benefits, and engender a culture of support, are those that suffer less with employees absent from stress.

Stress can be difficult to identify but when it’s one of the biggest causes of absence it cannot be ignored. April’s Stress Awareness month is a great time for employers to look again at their health and protection policies and make sure they’re making full use of all the support available and their staff know about it.

By Matthew Judge, technical director for Jelf Employee Benefits