More than 70 million working days were lost to mental health illnesses in 2013, according to a report by chief medical officer professor Dame Sally Davies.

The Employment is good for mental health report found that the number of working days lost to stress, depression and anxiety has increased by 24% since 2009.

The number of days lost to serious mental illness has also doubled and the report found that 75% of people with diagnosable mental illness receive no treatment at all.

The report called for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) to analyse the cost benefit of fast-tracking access to treatment for working people who may fall out of work due to mental illness.

It also found that rapid access to treatment could improve employees’ chances of staying in work.

Davies recommended simple changes that employers could make to help employees with mental illness stay in work, for example, by offering flexible working hours and making early and regular contact with employees on sick leave.

Davies said: ‘The costs of mental illness to the economy are astounding. Through this report, I urge commissioners and decision-makers to treat mental health more like physical health.’

‘Anyone with mental illness deserves good-quality support at the right time. One of the stark issues highlighted in this report is that 60% to 70% of people with common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety are in work, so it is crucial that we take action to help those people stay in employment to benefit their own health as well as the economy.’

Carl Chapman, head of wellbeing at Barnett Waddingham, added: ‘It is probably no great surprise that Dame Sally Davies’ report shows that mental health needs to become more of a priority, especially considering that mental illness now leads to the loss of 70 million working days per annum in the UK, an increase of 24% from 2009.’

‘I agree with Dame Sally Davies that while the NHS can, and needs to, increase funding and reduce treatment waiting times, the workplace is also extremely important in tackling the issue.’

By Robert Crawford, as published in Employee Benefits on 10th September 2014

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