New figures show a decline in the number of days staff are absent due to mental health issues across the government's law officer departments – with the exception of the Serious Fraud Office, where numbers have risen sharply.
The statistics, published by solicitor general Robert Buckland QC, chime with Law Society findings that government solicitors are more likely to report using pastoral care than those in private practice or in-house.
The Crown Prosecution Service lost 11,854 days because of mental illness in 2015/16. Stress was the cause of 5,856 of those days. The figures are an improvement on 2013/14, when 16,028 days were lost, of which 7,844 were because of stress.
The Attorney General’s Office, Government Legal Department and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate define mental disorders as absences for reasons of stress, mood-affective disorders, disorders of personality and behaviour, and schizophrenia.
Figures for HMCPSI fluctuated over the past three years, with 15 days lost in 2013/14, rising to 168 days in 2014/15, but then falling to 28 days in 2015/16.
The number of days lost at the GLD fell from 1,843 in 2013/14 to 1,551 in 2015/16. The AGO has not lost a single day in the past two years; 23 days were lost in 2013/14.
By contrast, the SFO lost 507 days due to anxiety, depressive or mental disorders in 2015/16, compared with 18 in 2013/14. In addition, stress or work-related stress resulted in 529 lost days in 2015/16, up from 105 in 2013/14.
The SFO told the Gazette that it provides an employee assistance programme to help and support its staff. It added: ‘The SFO is continuing to support a small number of staff in the workplace who suffer from long-term ill-health including mental [ill] health. In line with other government departments the SFO has a managing attendance policy that sets out clear guidance for managers and staff on how to manage sickness absence.’
A spokesperson for the CPS said: ‘We are pleased with the 26% fall in the number of days lost to mental illness and stress over the last three years – that’s 4,170 fewer days lost.'
The statement added: 'We have made the management of stress and stress-related illnesses a priority and have implemented a number of initiatives to help staff. These include a free, 24-hour confidential helpline staffed by qualified counsellors, advisers and legally trained specialists, while we recently rolled out a scheme that provides tips and techniques on ways to tackle workplace pressure and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
'We will continue to introduce measures to reduce the number of days lost further.’
The Law Society’s 2014 Solicitors’ health and wellbeing report stated that around a fifth of practising certificate holders had experienced ‘severe’ or ‘extreme’ stress levels at work, with solicitors in the public sector more likely to report using care services.
The Society was one of 15 organisations to pledge allegiance to a new legal professions wellbeing taskforce this year.
Elizabeth Rimmer, chief executive of LawCare, said at the time that the charity had identified a ‘very low’ awareness of the support and services available, and a ‘stigma’ attached to acknowledging mental health issues.