One in three sick notes handed out by GPs are now for mental health problems, new figures reveal

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One in three sick notes handed out by GPs are for those with mental health problems, official figures show.

More Britons than ever are taking time off work for stress, anxiety and depression, according to an “alarming” new report from the NHS.

Some 573,000 cases of sick leave due to poor mental health were reported in the last year, figures show.

This figure rose from 70,000 from the previous year, making mental health and behavioural problems the most common reason for doctors issuing sick notes.

Musculoskeletal conditions were the second most common, according to the report.

The statistics come following government measures to clamp down on “sick note culture” by introducing a new “fit note” system.

In the fit note’s official guidance document, the Department of Work and Pensions advises that going back to work before a patient is “fully recovered” can “often help” their recovery. 

But the new data shows that one in five people who received a fit note for mental health problems was off work for at least three months. 

One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year (Shutterstock )

More people in Knowsley, Merseyside are taking mental health sick leave than anywhere else in the country, while Richmond in London recorded the lowest number of people given mental health fit notes. 

Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, told the Telegraph: “These figures explain why the NHS is now putting mental health front and centre, in what was recently independently described as ‘the world’s most ambitious effort to treat depression, anxiety and other common mental illnesses’.”

He said funding for services had risen by £1.4bn in the last three years, with an extra 120,000 people receiving treatment.

“When it comes to mental health, what’s good for patients is also good for taxpayers, because untreated mental health problems directly affect work, unemployment and benefits,” Mr Stevens said.

The fit note system, introduced in 2010, aimed to encourage employers and GPs to ease employees back into work in a less pressured way, by adjusting hours or duties. 

But the figures show that in the vast majority of cases employees were simply signed off. Just one in 20 fit notes made suggested changes to the patient’s working life. 

The report found that women continually accounted for more than half of the total number of fit notes issued from a low of 53.8 per cent in August 2015 to a high of 57.3 per cent in January 2017.

Prince Harry has spoken out about receiving counselling after the death of his mother, Princess Diana (Getty Images)

As celebrities continue to come forward with their own experiences of mental health, experts have suggested that the stigma around non-physical conditions is at a turning point, making people more likely to speak to their doctor if they are suffering.

Prince Harry was hailed “an inspiration” after he opened up about his with grief following his mother’s death, earlier this year. 

But Dr Jed Boardman from the Royal College of Psychiatrists said the report was “alarming” and the Telegraph that GPs and employers need to do more to help those with mental health problems get back to work.

He said both needed to be far more active in coming up with suggestions to help individuals.

 A Government spokesman said: “We’re helping thousands of people to remain in, or get back into work after a period of ill-health.

“We’re determined to go further, and these statistics will provide us with a better understanding of why people take sickness absence in different areas across the country.”

“Supporting people with mental health conditions is a top priority, which is why we’ve commissioned two expert-led reviews and have invested a record £11.6bn into mental health services.”

Approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, according to mental health charity Mind. Generalised anxiety disorder is the most common mental health condition, affecting about six people in every 100. 

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