A THIRD of all sickness absence at County Hall is due to stress, depression and mental health problems.

A report on absence at Essex County Council for the 2018/19 financial year has been released ahead of a meeting of the corporate policy and scrutiny committee.

The data shows last year 33.3 per cent of people who missed work reported the reasons as being stress or mental health related.

This is an increase of 7.6 per cent on the 2017/18 financial year.

Employees who worked in social care jobs were more likely to put their absence down to mental health.

For people working in children and families this was 40.7 per cent and for adult social care it was 39.2 per cent.

The council, which employs more than 6,000 people, had an average absence rate of 2.4 per cent.

This equated to 180 formal cases but any cases managed and closed informally were not counted in the figures.

An internal audit also found the the absence rate was not a “true reflection” as not all absence because of illness was recorded.

The report blamed poor technology and “management behaviours” for this.

It said: “We know that there are areas of concern within absence and absence management.

“The limited assurance audit demonstrated that our technology is not fit for purpose and some of our management capability and behaviours need addressing.

“Through our data we know that mental health is not just a national concern, it’s affecting our employees at Essex County Council. Our new wellbeing strategy will provide a strong, targeted response to our evidence on mental health and broader wellbeing.”

The new council strategy is focused on physical, mental and financial health.

County Hall also has 116 mental health first aiders, an in-house counselling team and an assistance programme.

A spokesman for Essex County Council said: “Essex’s figures for sickness absence are better than average for councils. Our overall sickness absence rate is 0.5 per cent lower than the national figure.

“For 2018, it is 2.6 per cent, a slight increase on this last year which is averaging 2.4 per cent, compared with a national rate of 3.1 per cent.

“Levels of stress and issues relating to mental health are a national concern for employers. Essex County Council offers a range of support to our staff who report stress or mental health-related issues.

“This includes face-to-face counselling, consisting of an initial assessment followed by up to six session with our in-house Occupational Health team.

“We also have an employee assistance programme which is available 24/7, 365 days a year, which offers telephone counselling over multiple sessions for anyone who requires support.”