Four in 10 cases of absenteeism can be attributed to poor mental health, a study in the UK showed.
What may appear to some as another sick day may be masking deeper mental health problems in others.
About 42% of employees calling in sick cite physical illness as a reason for their absence – in reality, they are dealing with a mental health issue, according to a study by BHSF Occupational Health.
Only 15% come forward to their boss about their inner struggles, the study found.
“[This] issue can no longer be ignored by employers,” BHSF said.
The average employee calls in sick 8.4 days out of the year to deal with issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression.
“Although shocking, these findings don’t come as a surprise. This research must provide a reality check for employers, who need to be proactive in focusing on early intervention,” the group said.
Despite attempts to conceal their struggles, people who suffer from mental health issues may show signs of distress even in their work environment. These include increased absence and poor timekeeping – which can be due to exhaustion and loss of sleep – and a change in persona.
“As issues progress, the individual may become socially isolated and withdrawn. They won’t go for lunch with colleagues and may keep to themselves,” the researchers said. “Their sense of humour or sense of enjoyment will be dampened, and they may become easily irritated. These are all behavioural signs that an employee’s mental health is sliding.”
No matter the root cause of an employee’s distress, employers need to have measures in place to support staff who suffer from poor mental health, BHSF said.
“This is where occupational health has a huge role to play. Employers tend to wait until an employee is absent from work and then refer them. If they had access to an occupational health service, they could action an early referral because they are concerned about an individual’s wellbeing,” the group said.
“Action taken at the earliest stage tends to be the most effective way of resolving the issue and preventing deterioration.”