One in five employees experienced depression this year, official figures show

Experts urge businesses to better train line managers in supporting wellbeing, as ONS also finds lowest earners have worst mental health

Nearly one in five adults in employment experienced depression at the start of this year, official figures show, as experts urge employers to ensure line managers are trained to support wellbeing.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that 19 per cent of employed adults experienced some form of depression between January and March this year, with rates of depression in adults more than double pre-pandemic levels.

The data also showed low earners were most likely to experience depressive symptoms.

Of those adults who said they would be unable to afford an unexpected but necessary expense of £850, 35 per cent said they experienced some form of depression in the first three months of the year.

This compares to just 13 per cent of those who reported being able to afford this expense.

Workers with incomes of less than £10,000 a year had the highest rates of depressive symptoms (37 per cent) when compared with all higher-income groups.

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In addition, adults educated below degree level had higher rates of depressive symptoms (23 per cent) compared to those with no qualifications (19 per cent), a degree or equivalent (18 per cent), or other qualifications (16 per cent).

Rachel Suff, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, said while the ONS’s figures were concerning, they were not surprising. “So many people have experienced work and personal challenges since the onset of Covid and employers have a responsibility to identify and manage the risks to individuals' psychological, as well as physical, health,” she said.

The CIPD’s own research also found that while most employers have stepped up support for employees over the past year, only half of HR professionals believe their organisation has been effective at identifying and managing the mental health risks arising from Covid.

“Employers need to focus their efforts where it will make the most difference,” said Suff. “They need to ensure line managers are confident in having empathetic conversations with people, spotting early signs of distress or mental ill-health and referring to more qualified sources of help where needed.

“To do this effectively they need to build positive and trusting relationships with individuals in their team."

Andy Bell, deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said by changing their expectations and adapting their ways of working, employers could better support the mental health of their staff.

“This should include creating an open and supportive culture about mental health at work, giving people more control about how and when they return to ‘normal’ locations and practices, training managers in mental health literacy, and adapting policies around our changed circumstances,” he said.