excludingadultNearly half of companies have seen an increase in reported mental health problems such as anxiety and depression over the past 12 months, according to the annual CIPD Absence Management survey.

The survey, produced in conjunction with Simplyhealth, released its findings in conjunction with World Mental Health Day [10 October] and saw an increase in employees reporting mental health issues for the sixth consecutive year.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said: "Unfortunately, this year’s survey shows the number of reported mental health problems has increased for many employers, and after over half a decade at these levels, we can’t afford to let this issue continue to grow any longer. As a nation we’re getting better at opening up the conversation around mental health, but there is still a long way to go.

"So what more can employers do? Manager training is crucial, as they are often employees’ first point of call for reporting an issue, but only 30% of organisations currently provide it. There needs to be a lot more focus on this going forward, as well as tailored support for line managers from HR and signposting employees to appropriate support. Employers also need to look at how well their corporate culture supports good mental health and employee wellbeing."

In 2009, 24% of organisations reported seeing an increase in mental health problems during the year but since then, levels of increase have been consistently over 40%. 

Reported increases are most likely in large and medium-sized organisations, with 69% and 51% respectively showing rises. They are also associated with long working hours and the extent to which operational demands take precedence over employee wellbeing.

Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind, said: “These figures show just how common mental health problems are in the workplace and highlight why it’s so important that businesses make promoting staff mental wellbeing a priority. Given how prevalent poor mental health is among staff, employers can no longer afford to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to tackling the causes of stress and poor mental health for their employees. 

"It’s positive to see more staff opening up to their employers if they are struggling with their mental health. The stigma surrounding mental health is beginning to dissipate, as awareness increases, with more people coming forward. But we know that many people still don’t feel comfortable disclosing, and sometimes those who do aren’t offered the right support at the right time. It’s vital that employers proactively promote good wellbeing for all as well as being able to support members of staff experiencing mental health problems."

Private sector lacking support

The report found the private sector particularly lacking in managing and supporting employees with mental health problems, with 28% admitting they weren’t taking any action to support employees. 

Just 32% currently offer a counselling service, compared to 70% of public sector organisations. Similarly, only 21% said they were increasing awareness of mental health issues across the workforce as a whole, compared to 47% in the public sector.

Corinne Williams, head of human resources at Simplyhealth, concluded: "In this year’s survey organisations that have experienced an increase in reported mental health problems are twice as likely to provide training and support, compared with those that haven’t. This could be due to the fact that employees feel they can speak out about their mental health issues, which is great news as it shows work environments aren’t hostile to the topic of mental health. 

"But if organisations are to reduce reported levels of mental health absence, we need to target the root causes of mental health problems in the workplace, rather than just the signs, and deal with issues as and when they arise. An effective employee wellbeing programme, which should include a confidential employee helpline, can help to ensure there is a positive culture towards mental health, and so this should be a priority going forward."