Employers need to do more to promote mental health in the workplace if they are to reduce their costs, according to Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA).

Poppy Jama, chief executive of the training provider, says that managers and workplaces need to be in a position where they can provide the right support and guide staff towards appropriate interventions if they see symptoms of poor mental health. To do this, they will need to work harder to cultivate a culture which places psychological wellbeing at the centre.

“We are very used to knowing what to do when someone is physically unwell but it comes to mental health it’s very different because most people feel unequipped,” she added.

The comments came after a study from King’s College London and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) found that depression alone costs workplaces across Europe as much as £77 billion every year.

Losses came as a result of lost productivity as well as absenteeism – anywhere from 20 to 55 per cent of employees with depression were found to take time off work as a result of their illness.

But crucially, employers do not appear to be aware of the full impact of depression on employees: more than half the UK employers surveyed said they believed staff could still work effectively when they were suffering from depression or stress.

“Despite a lot of publicity surrounding mental illness, it is worrying to see that there is still a major stigma associated with depression and many employers are not dealing with it adequately,” said Professor Martin Knapp, one of the researchers conducting the study.

But Ms Jaman said the data corresponded to MHFA’s experiences, since it regularly deals with employers getting to grips with the effect of poor mental health on their bottom line. Often, she added, it was the fear of discrimination that put many workers off discussing their issues with managers – which is why training must be in place enabling employers to handle the situation effectively.