Workers fake illness rather than disclose mental health issues, finds survey

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Workers are taking an average of four sick days a year due to mental ill health or stress, but lying about it to their boss for fear of being judged, demoted or sacked, finds a new poll.

Research by Slater and Gordon, issued 29 August, showed over half of employees who took days out for their mental health faked a physical illness to explain their absence.

Of those who did talk to their employers, 14 per cent are told to “man up” and 13 per cent are fired, forced to leave or demoted from their roles.  

Slater and Gordon said the balance between how mental health is treated compared to physical health remains skewed.  

Peter Lyons, employment liability lawyer, said: “If staff do not even feel supported enough to seek help without fear of prejudice that’s a huge concern.”

“Many isolate themselves, trying to work harder, which causes their personal lives to suffer and mental health to deteriorate further. The biggest thing we would say is don’t fight stress alone at work,” said Lyons.

“Keep detailed notes of what is causing stress and anxiety, then speak to a trusted colleague or manager to create a plan to tackle the issues.”

Of the 2,000 surveyed, 65 per cent said the attitude of their firms to mental health was poor and that more support was needed.

Workers taking sick days due to mental ill health fear being judged or sacked, found the survey of 2,000 workers

It is widely reported that mental ill health will affect one in four people at some point in their working lives. People with mental health problems frequently suffer discrimination in the workplace and unemployment affects those with long-term mental health disorders more than any other group of disabled people, according to NHS Employers.

Mental illness should be treated in the same way as any other type of sickness absence, comments Gemma Bailey, who's a partner at Howells solicitors. However, company policy will often require staff to call in to explain why they’re ill, rather than text or email.

"The natural instinct is to volunteer information about why you’re sick, but, 'I’ve been awake all night with a viral stomach bug” is perhaps easier than to try to describe a particularly bad day of anxiety or depression for example,” she told Wales Online.

“In our experience, employees are commonly reluctant to be so forthright with issues around their mental health which is in part because they are worried about future repercussions following disclosure.”

Mental Health Foundation says evidence suggests that 12.7 per cent of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions.


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