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UK employees afraid to admit mental health problems at work

A huge proportion of UK employees are suffering from depression or anxiety, yet few would admit it to their employer even when taking time off to deal with it, according to research.

More than a third (35%) of workers, aged 16 to 65, experience moderate to severe depression, or severe anxiety symptoms, according to a study commissioned by AI mental health app developer Wysa.

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Just one in eight (13%) said they would be comfortable admitting to their employer they need time off for mental ill-health, yet two thirds (67%) said they have taken time off because of poor mental health, and lied to their employer about it.

Ross O’Brien, managing director UK of Wysa, said that organisations owe it to their employees to provide adequate mental health support.

He told HR magazine: “Despite the fact that people clearly are experiencing distressing and at times severe symptoms of anxiety and depression, they’re not speaking out.”

The problem is particularly acute among young people as almost half suffer from moderate or severe anxiety (44%) or depression (46%).

All age groups, however, share a reluctance to raise issues with their organisation’s support function.

The majority (81%) would prefer to consult an app than talk to their HR team about mental health issues.

Steve Herbert, wellbeing and benefits director at insurance advisors Partnersand, told HR magazine the hesitancy is unsurprising.

He said: “Employees are often reluctant to talk about any issue – be that physical health, financial or mental wellbeing – for fear of this issue being seen as a perceived weakness. Such concerns are often heightened even further during an economic downturn, when employees are naturally more nervous about losing their jobs.”

The findings of the report, he added, show a clear need for employers to support to their workers in all three areas.

He added: “So if we accept that few employees will overtly flag their wellbeing concerns, then the obvious response from HR experts must be to ensure that their company-sponsored employee benefits offering is comprehensive enough to support in any area of wellbeing. 

“It follows that apps and support websites – particularly ones that are anonymised for the user – can be an extremely important component of that offering.”

Obsurvant surveyed a representative field of 2,024 respondents across the US and UK in October 2022 on behalf of Wysa.