More support needed as mental health fit notes rise

Emotional support from employers is in higher demand due to a rise in the number of fit notes issued for mental health reasons because of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.

According to research from consultancy and IT service provider NTT DATA UK, subsequent Coronavirus lockdowns have resulted in an increased number of fit notes issued by doctors. The first lockdown in March 2020 saw 42% of them given out for mental health reasons, up from 36% before the pandemic.

A fit note provides a medical opinion on a person’s fitness to work and is usually required when an employee is on sick leave for more than seven days.

Both lockdowns coincided with an increase in the proportion of fit notes issued for mental health reasons, according to the research. After decreasing slightly during summer re-openings, the proportion of worker fit notes issued for mental health reasons rose again to 40% during the second November lockdown.

The report highlighted that mental health-related illnesses were already on the rise in the workplace before the pandemic, as it grew as a proportion of workplace illness by 1% on average year-on-year from 2015 to 2019. However, this surged by more than 4% in 2020.

Vicki Chauhan, head of public sector at NTT DATA UK, stated that employers must remain conscious of the mental health challenges facing their staff to ensure they are supported when they return to the workplace, and it is more important than ever to put mental health first after the effects that subsequent lockdowns have had on emotional wellbeing.

She said: “At NTT DATA, we provide our staff with support from trained mental health first aiders, share useful content on mental health management, and have mental wellbeing ‘champions’ embedded within our teams. To promote wellbeing and self-care, we encourage regular breaks during the day and also offer free virtual yoga and meditation sessions. Most importantly, we urge our employees to reach out if they are struggling.”