Firms urged to act as data shows depression has doubled during COVID

Incidents of workplace mental ill-health are on the increase as the strain of the pandemic begin to take a toll

The number of adults in the UK with depression has doubled during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is prompting calls for businesses to prioritise support to avert a looming mental health crisis. 

The research also revealed that one in five (19%) of people experienced some form of depression in June this year, almost double the 9.7% with symptoms in the nine months leading up to March. 

One in eight (13%) had developed moderate to severe depressive symptoms during the pandemic. In comparison, 85% of those experiencing some form of depression said feeling stressed or envious was most strongly compromising their wellbeing. 

Under many pieces of legislation enacted by the UK such as the Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992 and the Equality Act 2010 etc., employers have a duty of care for employees’ health, safety and wellbeing whilst at work – and this extends to their mental health. UK legislation requires employers to assess mental health work-related issues to measure the levels of risk to staff on an ongoing basis.

Commenting on the ONS figures, Kathryn Barnes, European Employment Counsel, Globalization Partners, said: “While we navigate this global shift to remote work – which for some will likely become a permanent transition – mental health needs to remain high on the agenda for employers.

“We are already witnessing a spike in mental health implications since the beginning of lockdown, and this will likely continue.”

New research from Samaritans found that 42% of UK men said their mental health had been negatively affected by life in lockdown, and 56% said they feel worried or anxious as restrictions ease.

Kathryn added: “Employers need to prioritise mental health and wellbeing, and there are a couple of easy suggestions for this. Promoting face-to-face coffee breaks, socially distanced catch-ups, and regular check-ins at work can go a long way towards promoting connectedness within any business setting.

“Companies who have regular video conferences are not only proven to be more productive, but help combat feelings of isolation, loneliness, and encourage open-conversations across the organisation.”

Mental health is a huge problem both in and outside of the office and now is a good time for business leaders to put policies in place and to practice what they preach.

That means seeing more companies committing to nominating health and wellbeing champions, trained by advisors and practitioners to help recognise and support employee wellbeing.

Said Kathryn: “There is a changing culture when it comes to mental health at work, but still more work needs to be done. Organisations should embrace and encourage positive mental health initiatives and be supporting employees as best they can – not just during our current lockdown situation, but at all times from now on.”

Meanwhile, a separate ONS report released today showed that disabled people are disproportionately affected by mental health problems and have seen a decline in wellbeing due to the pandemic. This includes:

  • 75% of disabled people were more likely than non-disabled (66%) people to report being “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about the effect that the coronavirus was having on their life.
  • 24% of disabled people were most concerned about the impact of the coronavirus on their well-being, compared with 13% of non-disabled people.
  • Disabled people were more likely (46%) than non-disabled people (18%) to report that the pandemic is affecting their well-being because it makes their mental health worse.
  • Disabled people are feeling lonely, (42% and non-disabled people 29%), they spend too much time alone (36% and non-disabled people 25%), they feel like a burden on others (25% and non-disabled people 8%), or have no one to talk to about their worries (17% and non-disabled people10%).

James Taylor, executive director of strategy, impact and social change at disability equality charity Scope, said: “While most people are back to a new normal, huge numbers of disabled people are still living in fear, anxiety and isolation. This research highlights yet again that disabled people are being disproportionately affected during this time.

We must not forget that almost two-thirds of people who have died from coronavirus were disabled. On top of this, there is now an understandable decline in disabled people’s wellbeing and they are facing uncertainty around finance and employment. Employers should not treat disabled employees unfairly. No disabled person should be forced to choose between their health or going to work to pay their bills.

We are calling on the Government to publish its National Disability Strategy and set out its plan to protect the rights of disabled people and to ease the anxiety and uncertainty affecting disabled people across the UK. Disabled people must not be forgotten in the biggest economic downturn we have seen in a century.”

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