The number of sick days we take has plummeted, a new study has found - but the number of days we take due to depression, anxiety and stress has risen.
Using data from 68 GP surgeries across the nation, researchers found fewer periods of sick leave were taken between 2011 and 2013 than during the equivalent period 10 years earlier, but that the proportion of people taking time off for mild to moderate mental health issues went up from 26 per cent to 38 per cent.
By comparison, there was a decline in the proportion of people taking sick leave for respiratory health problems, from 10 per cent to six per cent.
The research, published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine, was based on information such as length of sick leave taken and reasons given for sick leave.
Healthier in body, not in mind
Over the past 20 years, the number of sick days taken has declined steadily – data from the Office of National Statistics revealed a decrease from an average of 7.2 per person in 1993 to 4.4 in 2013.
A continuing decline is good news for the economy, since sick leave continues to cost huge sums for businesses each year. In 2011 alone, sick days cost employers £9m.
But as work pressures escalate, our nerves are taking the brunt. Earlier this month, a freedom of information request by City A.M. revealed that even at the Department of Health, which should be a paragon of wellbeing, mental health is on a downward trajectory. Over the course of last year, more sick days were taken by the department's employees because of mental health than any other ailment.
This means mental health is even more of a problem in the Department of Health than the nation as a whole - the most recent figures from the ONS show that in 2013, mental health was the third biggest cause of sick days across the UK.
Worse in the city?
The amount of stress people feel at work is rising nationwide, but the City is suffering from its own, additional form of stress, according to a psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre.
In an interview with City A.M. last year, Dr Rafael Euba said he had become aware of a particular type of anxiety, called “status anxiety”, which is more prevalent in the finance sector than any other field. He said it stems from a pressure to appear resilient and successful in front of colleagues.
“There is enormous pressure today for people in the City to be successful and to be able to demonstrate this publicly to their peers,” he said. “Yet there is a strong stigma associated with having psychological difficulties at work.
“This applies to many types of job, but even more so in the City because there is such a competitive culture – people fear that their psychological distress could be interpreted as weakness, in a sector where you are expected to be strong."
A job satisfaction report released by Financial News for the finance sector last year showed that almost a third of financial executives have suffered from stress or depression at work.