More than a quarter (28%) of UK employees believe there is less stigma associated with mental health issues in the workplace than a year ago, according to new research1 by Aviva released ahead of World Mental Health Day [10 October 2012].

An increase in awareness and understanding of mental health issues at work mirrors the steady increase in the numbers of UK employees claiming for psychiatric disorders on both income protection and private medical insurance policies. In 2011, conditions such as depression, stress and anxiety were the biggest cause for claim on Aviva’s Income Protection Solutions cover for both individual and corporate customers, with almost a third (28%) of both men and women claiming for such conditions.

However, while employees are generally feeling less stigma in the workplace, a third (35%) still feel that mental health remains a ‘taboo’ subject that is seldom talked about. Over half of employees (56%) think that physical illness will always carry less stigma than mental health.

Of those who feel that stigma has decreased, around half (48%) of employees attribute this to a better understanding of mental health amongst peers and colleagues. Over a third (36%) of employees say that TV and press campaigns, such as Mind’s ‘Time to Change’ campaign, have helped remove the stigma associated with mental health problems. More than a quarter (28%) believe that celebrities talking openly about their mental health has created awareness and understanding, while 23% of employees believe that the Government’s mental health strategy has helped.

Claims data from Aviva shows that the average age at which employees begin an income protection claim for a mental health condition is 43 and the average time in claim for such a condition is nine years. Of the income protection claims made in 2011 for psychiatric conditions, moderate depression was most common (28%), followed by anxiety (15%) and stress (12%).

The Aviva research also reveals that employers are now much more aware of the extent to which their workforce is affected by mental health problems. Encouragingly, the number one health initiative that employers would like to implement is more support for employees with mental health issues (34%).

Dr Doug Wright, Medical Director for Aviva, UK Health, says: “It’s good to see that employees are beginning to feel less stigma at work concerning mental health issues, and that many employers have more understanding and want to offer support. As very few employees say they would confide in their employer about a mental health condition, it’s important that managers are able to spot the signs of problems and have the right support in place.

“Mental health is high on the agenda for both employees and employers in the UK. Employers have a vital role in helping to support those who are suffering from depression, anxiety or other psychiatric conditions. There are many companies who offer no support at all to such employees, but equally we are seeing more and more companies starting to provide support and running training and awareness campaigns.”