Mental health absences from councils and the NHS cost the taxpayer £2billion during the pandemic, as sick days for depression and other conditions soared by 28 per cent, The Telegraph can reveal.
Data show staff sick days for mental health reasons in the NHS and local government totalled £897million in 2020 and £559million between January and August 2021, compared with less than £1billion in 2019.
Mental health leave for staff was on average three times longer than Covid-related absence, with workers taking a month off to recover versus an average of 11 days for Covid infection or isolation.
Among council workers, time off for mental health took up 25 per cent of total sick days - more than for Covid infections and Covid isolation combined.
The total cost of mental health leave was enough to run the entire NHS for five days.
The hidden cost of mental health absence on public services is exposed by new data from FirstCare, which holds the largest private database of workplace absence in the UK.
The data has previously been used by Government departments to inform policy.
The latest figures come after NHS leaders revealed eight million people in the UK are waiting to access mental health services.
Mental health leaders have complained that little of the extra funding for the NHS during the Covid pandemic has been allocated to mental health services. £500m was announced in this year’s Spending Review, of £3bn allocated overall.
Previous studies have suggested that employers’ mental health provision is significantly worse in the public sector than in private businesses.
A survey found that public sector workers were over a third more likely to say their mental health was poor than those who work for the Government.