New figures show that the UK mental ill health crisis is worse than estimated among working people. Over 1 in 3 (35%) working people suffer moderate to severe depression or severe anxiety – three times higher than the estimated UK adult prevalence.

Official figures point to 1 in 6 of us struggling with mental health, up from 1 in 10 prior to the coronavirus pandemic. And UK employees aren’t speaking up, with half not speaking to healthcare professionals, and only 1 in 10 (13%) comfortable enough to admit needing some time off for mental ill health to their employers.

According to the latest research from Wysa, a digital health app, 11.3 million adults should be getting some kind of therapy or support for moderate to severe anxiety or depression. The latest Health & Safety Executive report points to 914,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2021/22 – but this research suggests a much greater issue.

The rate of moderate to severe anxiety or depression is higher amongst younger people – nearly half (44%) under 24 are demonstrating symptoms of moderate to severe anxiety, compared to 27% over 54. The same pattern is seen when it comes to depression. Twice as many under 24s show scores suggesting moderate to severe depression as those over 55 (46% vs 21%). Overwork, the challenges of the economy, and difficulties affording rent or houses are all taking a toll on the next generation.

Despite a growth in wellbeing programmes and many organisations speaking about mental health at work, people fear speaking up. When facing a period of mental ill health and feeling unable to work a quarter of employees (24%) have taken time off as sick, using physical illness as the reason, and one in five (22%) taken time off as holiday time using paid time off. Half (48%) have gone to work regardless and only 14% been honest and taken time off as sick, using stress or mental health as the reason. One in five (18%) aged 25-34 have been honest, compared to one in ten (9%) aged 55-64.

Worryingly, half (52%) of people who screened as suffering symptoms of moderate to severe depression or anxiety, at levels requiring further investigation and treatment, have not spoken to a healthcare professional. The primary reason is that they don’t think their symptoms are serious enough. Women, in particular, play down their symptoms. Almost half (48%) of women who experience symptoms of moderate to severe depression or anxiety have not spoken to a professional because they don’t think it’s serious enough, versus men 1 in 3 (33%) who think the same. Or they worry a health professional won’t think it’s serious enough – 21% said this was a worry.

Stigma prevails in men, and we see a clear gender divide. 1 in 3 men (31%) who need help have not sought it because they report being too embarrassed, compared to a quarter of females (25%).

Ross O’Brien, Managing Director UK, Wysa  says:

Currently the burden falls on the NHS to solve the mental health crisis. But we can see that employees are struggling more than the average population. We owe it to our workforce to find a different solution to addressing mental health problems. Where the 11 million workers who need some kind of support for anxiety and depression have access to it, through a tool or system that works for them. A digital front door to support, services and therapy, that removes the barriers to mental health support altogether.

Ross O’Brien, Managing Director UK, Wysa

Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website | + posts

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.