Four in 10 fit notes issued by GPs during the first lockdown were for mental health issues – an increase of 6% compared to what would usually be expected.
The findings are from an analysis by consulting and IT services provider, NTT Data UK which looked at GP fit note data from NHS Digital.
The analysis adds to the growing concern of an incoming 'surge' in the need for mental health support due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of the 163,250 sick notes issued between April and June of this year, 41% were due to mental and behavioural disorders.
In the prior 12 months from April 2019 to March 2020, a total of 247,791 fit notes were issued, of which 86,961 (35%) were for mental health and behavioural disorders.
The overall number of fit notes dropped by around 10% during the first lockdown – due to thousands of workers across the country being furloughed – but the proportion of fit notes for mental health issues increased by 5.5%.
Fit notes are issued by GPs after 7 days absence from work due to illness if the GP believes someone is too ill to return to work.
In the case of a common mental health issue like depression or anxiety, GPs can issue them during the initial consultation for a period of 7 days, which can then be extended if necessary.
“Employee mental health and wellbeing has always been of crucial importance in the workplace," said Vicki Chauhan, head of public services at NTT DATA UK. "This research shows that it’s more important now than ever to support our health as lockdown and remote working continues to impact society.
“These are extraordinary times and until we can return to a level of normality, employers must remain conscious of the challenges that remote working poses to mental health and continue to support their staff as this pandemic evolves.”
Last month, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £500 million support package for mental health services to address the increase in demand for support during the pandemic.