The figures are concerning given that this increase happened before the coronavirus pandemic put unprecedented strain on NHS staff.
The statistics were released by NHS Digital following a written parliamentary question by Labour, and obtained by the Mirror.
The amount of sick days taken by NHS staff due to mental health doubled from nine years ago.
They show that between January and December 2010, 2,060,416 total days were lost due to time off caused by mental health issues, the Mirror reports.
Between January and December 2019, this figure had jumped to 4,796,928 – an increase of 138 percent, the paper adds.
What’s more, the increase in numbers cannot simply be attributed to an increase in NHS staff in the intervening years.
Based on headcount, there were 1,166,193 Hospital and Community Health Service (HCHS) staff employed by the NHS in England in January 2010, according to official NHS workforce statistics.
The Covid-19 pandemic put strain on NHS staff.
By January 2020, this number had gone up to 1,278,988. An increase, to be sure, but not enough to account for NHS sick days due to mental health more than doubling during this time.
Rosena Allin-Khan, Shadow Minister for Mental Health and A&E doctor, told the Mirror that the increase lays bare the “vital need for a support package for frontline staff that truly works”.
She added: “NHS staff have been forced to deal with the most difficult situations and working conditions.
“Clapping is not enough – the Government must support their mental health now.”
According to the Mirror, ‘mental health’ as a reason for time off in 2010 could include stress, anxiety, depression, or ‘other mental disorders’.
By 2019, these definitions did not appear to have changed significantly.
At the start of May, minister Allin-Khan had urged the government to put post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) support for frontline medical staff due to the stress of working through the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, she said that staff needed access to talking therapies and that there should be monitoring for increased suicide risk.
Staff have faced PPE shortages as well as concerns of catching the virus or spreading it on, a minister said.
Allin-Khan wrote: “As I speak to my colleagues across the country and in our unions, it is clear that there is a rise in suicides, self-harm and suicidal ideation among frontline NHS and care staff.
“It is vital that in order to tackle this, there is real-time data to understand where particular pinch points may be and where resources need to be directed.
“Increasingly, NHS staff are breaking down – I see it first-hand working shifts. From a fear of spreading the virus to patients and loved ones, a lack of PPE, an increased workload owing to the number of cases and staff absences, to being redeployed to ICUs and witnessing more patients die – staff are experiencing greater pressure, which is inevitably taking its toll on their mental health.”
A minister has called for more mental health support to be given to frontline medical staff.
“Our frontline NHS and care staff are doing fantastic work in extremely difficult circumstances. Unless our staff are safe, they cannot keep us all healthy.”
The Guardian reported in early May that Claire Murdoch, national mental health director for NHS England, confirmed that planning was underway for PTSD referrals for frontline NHS staff.
She said that steps such as shift patterns that allowed a recuperation period, as well as support through post-shift debriefs and general supervision, would be “critical” and compared it to a military strategy.