Wednesday 9 June 2021 2:45 pm

Time off work for mental health surges during UK coronavirus lockdowns

The number of fit to work notes issued by doctors for mental health reasons spiked during both UK lockdowns in 2020, according to a new analysis of NHS data.

In the midst of the first lockdown in May 2020, 42 per cent of fit notes issued by doctors were for mental health reasons, up from 36 per cent before coronavirus hit the UK, according to a new NTT Data UK analysis of NHS data.

Fit notes are essentially judgments on whether a staff member, off work for seven days, is able to return.

After decreasing slightly during summer re-openings, the proportion of worker fit notes issued for mental health reasons rose again to 40 per cent during the second November lockdown.

Prior to coronavirus, mental health-related illness at work was already on the rise. From 2015 to 2019, mental health-related illness grew as a proportion of workplace illness by one per cent on average year-on-year. But in 2020, this surged by over four per cent.
“Employee wellbeing has always been of crucial importance in the workplace,” said Vicki Chauhan, Head of Public Sector at NTT DATA UK. “This research shows that it’s now more important than ever to put our mental health first after the effects that subsequent lockdowns have had on our emotional wellbeing.” 

Lack of social contact paired with increasing job uncertainty have weighed on workers’ mental health during all three lockdowns, with young people worst affected.

When sectors like hospitality and retail were hit particularly hard by coronavirus restrictions, under-35s disproportionately lost their jobs. In the year to March, nearly 635,000 under-35s saw payroll job losses in the UK, making up 80 per cent of the total payroll jobs lost during the year.

For those who kept their jobs, returning to the office may pose new challenges to mental wellbeing, Chauhan adds.

“As we start to consider plans for the ‘return to work’, employers must remain conscious of the
mental health challenges facing their staff and ensure they are supported during what will
undoubtedly be an emotional return to the workplace.”