The pandemic causes a North/South divide in mental health, with one in three taking time off due to mental wellbeing concerns

The pandemic continues to impact on the nation’s mental health, with almost one in three (31%) employees taking leave in 2021 due to mental health reasons.

The UK is now seeing the impact of two years of turmoil of not being able to see loved ones, being restricted on how often you should be leaving the house, all while trying to avoid a highly contagious virus. As a result of this, the latest research conducted by Westfield Health shows that nearly half (43%) of workers say that their mental health has declined since the start of the pandemic.

Commenting on this research, Kate Platts, Research Associate at Sheffield Hallam University’s Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, says: “Personal wellbeing throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has been at a 10-year low, and, although improvements in life satisfaction and happiness are now being seen, levels of anxiety remain high. The nation will take time to recover from the shock of such huge disruptions to everyday life. In August 2021, around three-quarters of those suffering from depression attributed their mental health issues at least in part to the pandemic.”

The impact of the pandemic has spread to our work life, too, as nearly one quarter (24%) revealed that they are anxious about their work, with only a third (34%) feeling that their work-life balance is average.

With mental health days costing businesses £12.7bn1 in 2021, Kate adds: “The Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted the vast inequalities between the North and South of England2. In the North, where household income and local investment is traditionally much lower than in the South, we would expect to see a higher prevalence of mental health issues; indeed, around one in four adults in the most deprived areas are likely to suffer some form of depression.”


North vs. South

Research conducted by the wellbeing provider also found that there is a divide between the North and South of England, with more people in the South of England stating that their mental health has been worse since the start of the pandemic (46%), opposed to the North (39%).

Job uncertainty has been an influencing factor, as, throughout the pandemic, those from the South have been more concerned about losing their job (46%, opposed to 32% in the North).

On the upside, the discussion around mental health and wellbeing is improving, especially for those in the South of England. This means that they’re more likely to have days off because of deteriorating mental health (34%) than those in the North (26%).

This has resulted in people in the South taking more time off on average (3.98 days per year) due to mental health than those in the North (3.06 days per year). Compared to 2020, the figures in the South have increased (from 2.33 days) and decreased in North (from 4.10 days).

Those in the South are also more comfortable with asking for time off (55%) due to feeling more at ease discussing their mental health with colleagues (57%) in comparison to their Northern counterparts (48% and 46%, respectively).

Vicky Walker, Director of People at Westfield Health, said: “Taking leave to look after your mental health is a good way to stop, take a break and recharge. It can leave employees feeling less burnt out and more valued at their workspace for it’s a way of showing understanding towards personal boundaries and limits”.

She adds: “What people need most is to be heard, and for their individual needs to be

understood. Managers need to take this time to build strong relationships and encourage

employees to communicate openly about their health needs so they can better

understand how to support them.”


Looking after employee wellbeing

Westfield Health also uncovered the changes employees want their employers to make to better look after employee wellbeing. The top three things are: long-term changes to the way they work (28%), extra wellbeing support (27%), and mental health support at work (25%).

Vicky comments, “It has been nearly two years since the pandemic turned everyone’s worlds upside down. People across the globe have undergone many changes and have had to adapt to ‘a new normal’ almost immediately.

“That is a lot to process, and understandably, people want their employers to step in and be more flexible during this time. Now is the time for employers to think about how they can help their employees and not become complacent with wellbeing support now that restrictions are easing.

“Being flexible in the approach will help HR teams and employers to ensure that they are listening to employees and giving the support needed to each individual, even if things change once again.”