More than a quarter of sick days taken in the civil service are due to mental ill-health, latest figures show.
In response to a written question from Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett, the government has revealed 25.8% of all days lost to sickness absence in the year up to March 2017 were due to mental conditions.
Just over 64% were down to physical illness, with the rest attributed to pregnancy problems or unknown or ill-defined symptoms.
Luciana Berger, president of the Labour Campaign For Mental Health, said it showed an increase in willingness on the part of staff to be open about struggles they may be facing.
She told HuffPost UK: “The figures appear to show a new willingness on the part of civil service staff to talk about their mental health and tell managers when they are experiencing mental ill-health.
“That has to be welcomed, and reflects years of hard work by campaigners to break down the stigma around mental health problems.
“It is good to talk, but we need to see government action to tackle the reasons that lay behind the level of sickness overall.
“Years of job cuts due to austerity and rising demands by a government distracted by Brexit have an inevitable cost to hard-working, dedicated members of the civil service.
“People are being put under ever-greater stress and that has to be recognised and tackled.”
A Civil Service People Survey conducted last year revealed staff in the government’s Brexit department are the most overworked, while Department of Health workers took twice the average number of sick days in the last three years.
In the year ending March 2017, the levels of sickness absence in the service overall had dropped - but concerns have been raised that this may be due to staff being put under pressure to come in when they are ill due to a culture of “presenteeism”.
Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party, said: “Public servants are under increasing strain.
“Pay freezes, staff cuts and increasing workloads are pushing staff to breaking point. In recent years we have seen news of more than half of civil servants becoming ill due to stress, with one third of civil servants leaving their jobs last year.
“While it is important to note these figures could show a growing awareness of mental health, the overwhelming signs that our public servants are struggling to cope cannot be ignored. The government must act to improve civil servant’s working conditions, pay, and put real investment into mental health services so those who need help can access it.”
Cabinet Office Parliamentary secretary Oliver Dowden said the civil service “recognises that good workforce health and well-being is fundamental to delivering brilliant public services”.
“We support people so that they can remain at work where possible and to return as soon as they are ready following sickness absence,” he added.
“The civil service continues to review how it can proactively manage sickness absence and improve health and well-being at work even further, ensuring that it consistently delivers the high level of service that the public demand and expect.
“As for all employers, presenteeism is potentially an issue in the civil service. We have made no assessment of the effect of a potential culture of presenteeism on the long term trend in sickness absence.
“However, we are exploring how to measure presenteeism using the Civil Service People Survey, and this might inform such an assessment in the future.”