A panel of 250 UK GPs has found that one in six people have asked for a diagnosis of depression, anxiety or stress to be concealed on a work sick note.
A supporting survey of over 2,000 UK adults found almost half of workers (45%) diagnosed with the conditions admitted they would feel uncomfortable telling their employer about it and a further three in five (59%) said they would not want any evidence of them having experienced stress, anxiety or depression on their work record.
This is perhaps unsurprising as research by the charity Business in the Community (BITC) suggests that more than one million UK employees could face demotion, disciplinary or dismissal after sharing mental health issues with employers.
The number of patients with symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress has also risen in the last five years, according to data commissioned by Royal London.
It revealed that GPs spend at least one day’s worth of consultations a week specifically discussing these conditions with their patients – yet those affected often delay seeking help.
Its supporting survey of UK adults found more than half (58%) of those who experienced stress, anxiety or depression for more than a week did not visit their GP – often because they didn’t think their symptoms were severe enough or they didn’t believe doctors could help.
Just two in five (38%) saw a GP within a month of experiencing symptoms and one in five (21%) said they waited more than six months before making an appointment.
The research highlights that many people still see physical illness as a more legitimate reason to take time off work, meaning they are often reluctant to speak to their employer about mental health.
Three quarters (74%) of workers said they are more likely to take a day off work for a physical illness such as a cold or back ache than if they were suffering from stress, anxiety or depression.
“It’s concerning to read GPs report an increase in patient consultations for stress, anxiety and depression in the last five years, but even more worrying that people are delaying seeking help,” Ajay Khandelwal, chief executive at Lambeth and Southwark Mind, said of the research.
“This points to a high proportion of us living with symptoms that could have a severe impact on our day-to-day lives. From feeling unable to leave the house through to experiencing trouble at work or in personal relationships; even minor symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression can quickly escalate and push us to breaking point if we don’t take action.”
Khandelwal highlighted the importance of knowing the symptoms to look out for, such as “feeling out of sorts or not normal”. He said other signs can include a loss of appetite or sleep, a lack of motivation or interest in things you usually enjoy, and having recurring thoughts about feeling out of control.
Of those who sought professional help, 28% said they felt they had made a full recovery, but the majority (62%) felt they had not fully recovered and are still living with stress, anxiety or depression in some form.
Jennifer Gilchrist, insurance specialist at Royal London, said of the findings: “Our research shows that people are delaying seeing a GP if they are suffering from stress, anxiety or depression.
“We encourage people to seek help earlier and if they don’t want to see their GP they could consider seeking help from a mental health charity such as Mind who provide support all over the country, providing long term therapies and peer support groups for people experiencing mental distress and supplementing support available on the NHS.”