Nearly a third of UK businesses say that mental health is now a bigger issue among employees than physical illness

A new study finds that mental health is now a priority at board level for almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of businesses, rising to 72 per cent among large corporates.

Over the last decade, Bupa has seen the number of employees covered by its health insurance claiming for mental health treatment double. According to research1 among senior-decision makers across large organisations and SMEs, more than two in five (41 per cent) have seen an increase in episodes of health issues compared to five years ago.

The findings show mental health is now a bigger issue than physical illness among employees for nearly a third (29 per cent) of businesses. 

Approximately 743,0003 employees in the UK took long-term absence in the last 12 months due to health issues, making it the main reason for employees to be out of work. And the Government’s recent review2 shows that poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year.

The overwhelming majority (96 per cent) of businesses want to help support their people, but many (57 per cent) do not know how to best support employees with these challenges. Two in five (39 per cent) admit that awareness and understanding of mental wellbeing issues is still low across their organisation. In response to increasing demand from businesses for mental health support, Bupa has launched a new feature in its business health insurance cover – Business Mental Health Advantage – the most extensive mental health cover for businesses and their employees.

The Mental Health Advantage provides cover for all4 mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar and anxiety. It also includes those that are typically excluded by insurers, such as alcohol and drug abuse. The removal of time limits on treatment for mental health conditions, so chronic conditions are now covered, also offers businesses and their employees with peace of mind that individuals can seek help if their condition returns.

It also provide ongoing support for the monitoring and maintenance of diagnosed health conditions, to help employees manage their condition and prevent worsening symptoms.Alex Perry, CEO, Bupa Insurance UK, said:

Mental health is one of the biggest people issues that businesses – big and small – face today. We know that businesses across the UK want to be able to help safeguard employees’ mental health

“Our new Mental Health Advantage offers better support and ease of access for all employees – giving businesses the confidence that they can provide their people with the right treatment and care when they need it.”  

Key features of the new policy include:

Extending the mental health conditions covered – cover all mental health conditions, including conditions insurers typically exclude such as alcohol and drug abuse. Cover for mental health conditions even if it is connected with a condition we don’t cover e.g. anxiety as a result of sleep disorder, even though sleep disorders are not covered.

Removal of time limits on treatment for mental wellbeing conditions so chronic conditions are covered – employees have access to medical treatment and support if their condition comes back.

Ongoing support – employees diagnosed with mental health conditions will be provided with help to manage their condition and prevent worsening symptomsFor example, if an employee’s treatment involves ongoing, daily medication, they can have periodic reviews to ensure they are on the most effective and appropriate treatment.

Pablo Vandenabeele, Clinical Director of Mental Health at Bupa UK, said:

“Getting an early diagnosis and being able to easily access treatment is key to improving someone’s long term prognosis. We also know that someone’s risk of suffering from a mental health condition increases after the first episode which is why our cover offers on-going support.>“We hope our holistic approach to mental and physical health will play an important part in helping employees to manage their own conditions and prevent their symptoms worsening.”

If you are interested in health at work or finding out more about transforming your company culture to include a wellbeing programme you may be interested in our Workplace Wellbeing and Stress forum 2018 held in London on the 15th November. Click here for more details

Censuswide research conducted among 400 HRs and Directors within UK businesses: 200 large corporates and 200 SMEs between 9 and 16 March

2‘Thriving at work’, The Stevenson/ Farmer review of mental health and employers, October 2017,

3 According to Bupa’s research, an average of 10 workers a year at SMEs and 59 workers a year at large enterprises take long-term sick leave. According to a House of Commons briefing paper on business statistics (Dec 2017), there are 34,000 SMEs with more than 50 employees in the UK and 7,000 larger enterprises. Applying the number of employees taking sick leave to the number of businesses ((34,000 x 10) + (7,000 x 59)), 743,000 employees have taken long-term sick leave in the last 12 months

4The only exceptions are dementia and learning/behavioural development problems






Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.