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Getting Started

All in the mind

Mental illness might be an invisible condition, but its impact on small businesses’ human resources, and on the wider economy, is impossible to ignore. Unum, provider of employee benefits, counts the cost

All in the mind

Not too long ago, mental ill-health was dismissed with a ‘pull yourself together and get on with it’ attitude. Fortunately, mental illness is now recognised as a very real, highly debilitating condition – one that affects one in four people in the UK each year1.

Mental illness impacts every aspect of sufferers’ lives and, left untreated, often proves fatal. It’s a high cost for mentally-ill people and their families to bear, and there’s also a sizeable cost to the economy.

Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems, but stress significantly impacts UK businesses too. One in five people have taken time off work because of stress2, while two in five have considered resigning from their job3. And mental health difficulties are on the increase with the number of working days lost to depression, anxiety and stress increasing by 24%4.

Figuring it out

Unsurprisingly, this loss of productivity comes at a cost to businesses. The 70 million working days lost in Britain each year add up to £70–£100bn5 – and this bill could double in companies where a culture of presenteeism (coming to work while unwell) exists. There’s also a massive cost to our health service, with some 50 million prescriptions for antidepressants issued every year6.

Mental illness doesn’t discriminate on the grounds of gender, age or race. Yet nine out of 10 people with mental health problems experience stigma at work7. Fewer than half of employees said they would feel comfortable discussing stress with their line manager, and a shocking 56% of UK adults admitted that they would not hire someone with depression8, even if they were the best candidate for the job.

It’s time for UK businesses to step up and provide meaningful, worthwhile support for the mental health of their workforce. Whether it’s managing workplace stress, providing access to counselling and other therapies, or supporting employees’ return to work after mental ill-health, taking positive, practical action will maximise the wellbeing and productivity of your most valuable resource – and support the wider economy.


Unum Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Registered in England 983768.

In the UK, Unum has a financial strength rating of A- (Strong) from Standard & Poor’s with a stable outlook.

At the end of 2015, Unum protected over 1.4 million people in the UK and paid claims of £294m – representing in excess of £5.5m a week in benefits to our customers – providing security and peace of mind to individuals and their families.

1. Source: Mental Health Foundation, 2015

2. Source: International Business Times, 2014

3. Source: Working Mums, 2015

4. Source: London Loves Business, 2014

5. Source: Mental Health Foundation, 2015

6. Source: Daily Express, 2014

7. Source: ITV, 2016

8. Source: Mental Health Foundation, 2015