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Mental health: the most common work-related ill health problem?

13 January 2015

New research published today in the scientific journal Occupational Medicine shows that throughout the British Isles, mental health disorders are the most common work-related ill health problem. They account for more than half of all cases reported by occupational physicians.

The researchers, led by a team from Manchester University, studied data across three surveillance schemes from 2005 to 2012. It is the first time that a study has investigated  the incidence of work related ill health and compared detailed data across Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Musculoskeletal disorders such as back and limb pain were the second most frequently reported across all three countries. The study also found that asbestos occupational respiratory disease was commoner in Great Britain and Northern Ireland than in the Republic of Ireland. This is likely to be due to the historical use of asbestos being more prominent in the UK.

The Society of Occupational Medicine today urged employers to do more to tackle mental health problems and invest in workplace health. One in four adults will experience a mental health condition each year. Mental health is thought to cost UK employers £26 billion each year - on average £1035 per employee.

Dr Alasdair Emslie, president of the Society said: "As demands on the NHS continue to increase, the UK needs a radical rethink about how it delivers healthcare with a much greater focus on prevention. The workplace is the ideal environment to cost-effectively address a variety of health problems including supporting those with mental health problems. Early recognition of the signs of stress, anxiety and depression is the crucial first step in dealing with such problems and preventing them from becoming more serious."

Occupational health specialists have the ability to improve the health of thousands of workers by bringing in policies and wellbeing programmes - a General Practitioner can affect a tiny proportion of this number by seeing them one to one for a few minutes each year."

Professor Raymond Agius, one of the authors of the study, added: "This study shows that throughout the British Isles mental health problems account for over half of all work-related ill health reported by occupational physicians, and reinforces the need for more efforts in prevention and rehabilitation to foster mental wellbeing at work."