The economic burden of mental illness

Approximately 80 million working days per year are lost in the UK as a result of mental illness with an estimated cost to employers of ?1.2 billion. This figure is almost certainly an underestimate given that mental health problems are often undetected or misdiagnosed. On average approximately 3000 people in the UK per week move on to Incapacity Benefit; musculoskeletal disorders account for 28 per cent of these, with psychiatric disorders coming a close second at 20 per cent. In a recent survey, 1 in 5 days of certified sickness absence was due to psychiatric illness, accounting for 92 million lost working days.

Overall direct costs of mental illness vary and have been estimated by some to be about ?32.1 billion: this comprises ?11.8 billion in lost employment, ?4.1 billion in costs to the National Health Service (NHS), and ?7.6 billion in Social Security payments.8 The Royal College of Psychiatrists estimated the annual cost of poor mental health in Great Britain is more than ?40 billion a year.6 Some of the more difficult to measure costs of mental health disorders amongst the workforce come from what is called presenteeism. In this chapter we use this term to refer to the loss of productivity as a result of poor performance because of impairment as a direct result of a mental health disorder. However, it is also possible that mental health disorders may lead to loss of productivity in other ways, such as the increased propensity for accidents amongst members of the workforce with impaired concentration or other aspects of cognitive function. Whilst a potentially complex area it is fair to say that the impact of mental health disorders on productivity is not wholly a function of employees being absent from work.

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