Sick notes for mental health issues show alarming rise

Nearly a third of illness notes issued by GPs is for psychiatric problems, says an NHS report with a 14% rise in notes relating to anxiety and stress between 2015-16 and 2016-17. The Royal College of Psychiatrists said the findings were ‘alarming’ and pointed to a need for more to be done to help get people back to work.

The BBC reported that this report showed that mental health issues were the most common reason for people to take time off work, ahead of musculoskeletal diseases.

The new NHS data analysed more than 12 million ‘fit notes’ (formerly called sick notes), issued over almost two and a half years from GP practices across England. Around half of the notes had a known diagnosis.

The NHS Digital report also revealed that fit notes for psychiatric problems were being issued for longer periods of time than other types of illness. For example, more than one in five psychiatric sick notes were issued for longer than 12 weeks, compared to only 3% of notes for diseases of the respiratory system.

Jed Boardman, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said not enough was being done to facilitate a person’s return to work.

“GPs will write suggestions on the fit note, such as staggered work days or agreeing specific goals for the returning employer – both parties need to be more active in tailoring these suggestions to that person,” he said.

Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, told the BBC: “These figures explain why the NHS is now putting mental health front and centre, in what was recently independently described as ‘the world’s most ambitious effort to treat depression, anxiety and other common mental illnesses’.”

Dealing with stress and anxiety has become more common for clinical hypnotherapists, says the National Council for Hypnotherapy – the UK’s largest not-for-profit professional association for hypnotherapy, with more than 1,800 therapists across the UK on its directory.

“Hypnotherapy helps people to make changes in their behaviour. It cannot force you to make any changes against your will. Hypnotherapy commonly helps with conditions including stress and anxiety,” says the NCH.

The national body adds: “Stress is one of the major reasons people take time off work, and investing in stress reduction schemes companies can increase productivity, happiness and subsequently loyalty in their employees.

“Many hypnotherapists offer special offers to businesses for stress reduction schemes at work. It is worth talking to your employer or to a local hypnotherapist to see if that this is a possibility.”

Psychiatrist Dr Boardman told the BBC the NHS data ‘may underestimate the scale of the problem’ as discrimination can mean those with mental health issues are out of the labour force completely.

“Almost half of benefits claimants of Employment and Support Allowance in England are receiving payments as the result of mental and behavioural disorders,” he pointed out.

Anxiety can also manifest itself in different worries, explains the NCH. “It may be fear of being around other people, it may be anxiety in specific social situations, anxiety in your relationships with particular people at home, at school or at work.

“Anxiety is a fear or concern that is exaggerated, and is out of proportion to the situation, although sometimes it may not feel like this.”

An NCH hypnotherapist can help assess a person’s anxiety, identifying the root of stress or anxiety whether it is a situation, a physical issue, a past experience or a relationship. They will then work with the person to overcome this and lead the life they would prefer to live.

Unlike GPs, NCH hypnotherapists offer treatment sessions outside of office hours. To contact an NCH therapist near you, click here to access the NCH directory.

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