Just one in five adults in contact with mental health services in the Herts Valleys area in March were known to be in work.
The Mental Health Foundation charity says it fears the effect rising unemployment in the coronavirus crisis could have on the nation’s mental health – particularly the impact of the end of the furlough scheme in October .
The latest NHS figures show just 1,005 (20 per cent) of the 5,120 adults in contact with mental health services in the NHS Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group area at the end of March were known to be in paid employment.
Employment details for 1,240 patients were unknown, while the remainder were either unemployed or were economically inactive, a category which includes students, retirees and the long-term sick or disabled.
Across England, just 7 per cent of the 660,041 patients in contact with services were known to be in work.
Lucy Thorpe, head of policy at the Mental Health Foundation, said she was very concerned about the growing number of people losing their jobs in the pandemic.
She said: "There's strong evidence that unemployment puts us at much higher risk of mental ill health, including depression and anxiety, as well as physical health problems.
"The longer people are out of work, the greater this risk is."
The NHS's five-year plan for mental health, published in 2016, said stable employment is a key factor in maintaining good mental health, with mental health problems disproportionately affecting the unemployed.
The plan states: "Employment and health form a virtuous circle: suitable work can be good for your health, and good health means that you are more likely to be employed.
"The NHS must play a greater role in supporting people to find or keep a job."
A spokesperson for Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group said: "We recognise the importance of employment for people with mental ill health as being a factor in helping people recover and stay well.
"We wholeheartedly support the priority in the NHS Long Term Plan to increase the number of people with mental ill health in work and are working with partners to increase employment rates in a number of ways.
"This includes funding New Leaf, the recovery college which runs courses to support people towards work.
"The college helps people learn how to manage their mental health problems and is a stepping stone for people to build confidence and go on to access employment.
"Employment support is part of the mental health services run by our local mental health trust (HPFT).
"People having psychological therapy have access to employment advisors and community mental health services offer specialist employment help through the individual placement support team.
"This helps people with a severe mental illness to access competitive employment, whatever stage of recovery they are at, and also supports people who are accessing the early intervention in psychosis service."
Research by the Mental Health Foundation found unemployed people were more likely to report experiencing mental distress during the pandemic than the general population – 21% said they had had suicidal feelings in the past two weeks compared to 10 per cent for the public as a whole.
The charity has called on the Department for Work and Pensions to provide free, targeted psychological support to unemployed people.
Ms Thorpe added: "The response to this should be much broader than anything the NHS can do.
"The whole of the UK government must get involved, by giving people greater financial and physical security, so they need not fear eviction, hunger, destitution and consequent suffering for their children and other family members.
"It’s very important that the Government should focus action on this, particularly now the furlough scheme is ending, and there is no end yet in sight to Covid-19 or its widespread impacts on people’s lives and livelihoods.”
The DWP said it had provided £5 million of additional funding for mental health charities and was doubling the number of work coaches in its jobcentres from 13,500 to 27,000.
A spokesman added: “Our work coaches, case managers and team leaders receive mental health training and deliver support tailored to the needs of the individual while working closely with local organisations to provide specialist support where it is needed."