Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash

Financial stress and its impact on mental health has seen a rise in absenteeism, poor work performance and a lowered concentration span at work.

This was the view of corporate healthcare consultancy Alexander Forbes Health as October, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, began.

Thirty-five percent of all temporary incapacity leave applications received at present are due to mental and behavioural issues, according said the consultancy in a statement. 

Statistics from the World Federation for Mental Health show that, on average, 36 work days are lost per episode and that more than 10% of the employed populations have taken time off work for depression.

“Our data reveals a steady increase in the number of South African employees suffering from mental health problems over the past five years. 

And when financial difficulties and mental health problems are combined, you create a spiralling vicious circle where one compounds the other,” said head of Alexander Forbes Health Management Solutions Myrna Sachs. 

“When you have poor mental health, organising and managing financial issues becomes trickier. This in turn creates a sense of fear, anxiety and worry, once again affecting your overall mental health.”

“Mental health problems including depression, stress, anxiety, panic disorders, result in absenteeism. Looking after our mental health is therefore key to our overall wellbeing. Unfortunately, financial problems can and do affect mental health,” said Sachs.

“When people have debt which is causing them to worry, they don’t focus on work; they might be present but they are not productive. 

Poor work performance has a knock on effect on promotions and bonuses which further reduces earnings progression.” 

Sachs said chronic financial strain could lead to serious psychiatric and cognitive problems or depression.

One group of clients with more than 30 000 employees received 4 004 applications over the past year for extended sick leave for more than 36 in a three-year cycle. 

On average, of these extended sick leave applications, 25% were due to mental and behavioural disorders. 

The average duration of the incidents for these applications was 18 days. 

The next highest was 9% for musculoskeletal problems. 

“This is a revelation because it shows how unhealthy we are as a society – poor mental health is costing the economy billions.”

Absenteeism management, they say, can help companies to focus on what the real causes are. 

“Identify high risk individuals and between HR and line managers, help them address their issues using absenteeism benchmarking.”

Sachs said companies are bottom-line driven and do not always quantify the benefit of employee wellness and absenteeism management programmes.  

“Direct and indirect savings on absenteeism in workplace are proven to be up to six times what you pay for the absenteeism management.”

The Mercury