In recent years, the dialogue around mental health has shifted from a purely health perspective to a broader societal one. There is a growing body of evidence that illustrates not only the human cost of mental health issues but also their significant economic impact. It’s becoming increasingly clear that mental health is an economic issue that businesses have both a stake in and the capabilities to help solve.

The latest UK data shows that staggering 9.25 million people aged between 16 and 64 are neither working nor actively looking for work, with a record 2.8 million of these individuals sidelined due to health reasons. This trend is accompanied by an unprecedented number of work days lost to sickness or injury, with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reporting a record high of 185.6 million days in 2022 alone. These figures not only underscore the scale of the health crisis but also hint at the vast economic implications for both businesses and the wider economy. The economic impact of mental health issues is further highlighted by a report from the London School of Economics, which estimates that mental health problems cost the UK economy approximately £118 billion annually, nearly 5% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This staggering figure combines the direct costs of healthcare, lost productivity, and the broader effects on economic output.

The Mental Health and Employers Report published in 2022 by Deloitte estimates the cost of poor mental health to UK employers to be between £53 billion and £56 billion, with presenteeism, the cost of not performing at our best due to ill health, making up the majority of this significant cost.

The cost of poor mental health at work doesn’t stop there. Employees with depressive symptoms are absent for an average of 15 days a year, and this can go up to 34 days in case of severe symptoms. Mental health concerns such as stress and depressive symptoms also account for five percent of total voluntary turnover; and replacing a single employee costs approximately 21% of an employee’s salary. And as depression symptom severity goes up, so does the percent productivity loss; there’s a 15% productivity loss for those with mild symptoms, 27.4% for those with moderate symptoms, 32.5% for those with moderately severe symptoms, and 43.4% for those with severe symptoms.

One of the critical challenges in addressing mental health issues is the increasing strain on healthcare services, with waiting lists for mental health support growing longer and longer. The result is that individuals are only receiving help when they are in a state of crisis – by which time it is often too late. What this means is that as well as the millions out of work, there are millions in work struggling with their mental health, not being productive or performing well.

This is something that businesses are well placed to tackle. Not only does it help the economy, but also the organisation’s bottom line. For instance, research from Wysa demonstrates that the use of stepped AI care could save £500 per person per year in healthcare costs, equating to a potential saving of $30 million for a company employing 50,000 people, through improvements in absence rates and productivity. Through the US’s largest workers compensation insurer, Wysa is helping injured people return to work one third faster. According to Travelers workers compensation claim data, more than 40% of employees who have missed workdays due to injury have experienced a psychosocial barrier to recovery. The Wysa for Return to Work app helps users build mental resilience skills that can assist in overcoming those barriers – boosting their productivity.

By investing in the mental health and wellbeing of their employees, companies can not only help mitigate the personal and societal impacts of mental health problems but also realise significant economic benefits. Businesses that prioritise mental health are likely to see improvements in employee satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity, which in turn can drive organisational success. This approach not only benefits the individual and the company but also contributes to the broader economy by reducing healthcare costs, increasing productivity, and enhancing the overall quality of life for the workforce.

So what can businesses do?

  • Encouraging early intervention can prevent mental health conditions from worsening, reducing the need for more intensive treatment later. This approach can include providing employees with access to mental health resources, training managers to recognise the signs of mental distress, and fostering an environment where seeking help is normalised and supported.
  • Leveraging technology, such as AI-driven mental health apps and teletherapy services, can offer employees flexible and immediate access to support. These tools can be particularly effective in providing stepped care, where the level of support is adjusted based on an individual’s needs.
  • Cultivating a workplace culture that prioritises mental health is crucial. This means going beyond just offering benefits to creating an environment where mental wellbeing is considered an integral part of overall health. Encouraging open conversations about mental health, reducing stigma, and providing training on mental health awareness are key steps in this direction.
  • Recognising that mental health is deeply personal and varies significantly among individuals is important. Businesses can offer personalized support options, such as flexible working arrangements, access to counselling services, and mental health days, to meet diverse needs.
  • Leadership plays a crucial role in shaping organisational culture and priorities. When leaders openly support mental health initiatives and share their own experiences, it can significantly impact reducing stigma and encouraging others to seek help.

If you want your business to be productive and effective, you need to look to the people within – and look after them. If the financial bottom line is one that matters to your organisation, prioritising good mental health is one way of achieving success. By recognising mental health as an issue that is crucial, and taking proactive steps to address it, businesses can help solve a critical societal challenge. In doing so, we not only contribute to the wellbeing of employees but also secure a competitive advantage, driving forward individual productivity, organisational success, and, ultimately, the society at large. The conversation around mental health has evolved, and it’s clear that businesses have a critical role to play, both as beneficiaries of a healthier workforce and as catalysts for broader societal change.

Sarah Baldry
Sarah Baldry
VP of People & Marketing at Wysa | + posts

Wysa is a leading AI-powered mental health support platform, offering accessible services to individuals and through employer programs. It reduces stigma by providing easy access to professional help, including cognitive behavioural therapy exercises. Proven to decrease depression and anxiety by 31%, Wysa guides users to additional resources like coaching and crisis lines. It has assisted over 6 million people globally through 550 million conversations.