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Before COVID (yes, there was a before), we had a different type of crisis in the US. One that, like COVID, was sometimes invisible and also profoundly affected all aspects of our lives. It is our growing national mental health crisis.
In 2018, it was reported that nearly one in five, around 50 million adults, suffered from some form of mental illness. A little less than half, however, was treated. Despite these staggering numbers, companies had done relatively little to meaningfully address this. This left countless people feeling unable to discuss how they were feeling or share what they needed to do their best at work or at home.
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For many, this was due to overwhelming feelings of stigmatization in the workplace, along with related concerns about how they might be seen by supervisors and employees. Stigma comes at a high emotional and financial cost. The World Health Organization estimated the total cost of depression and anxiety to the world economy at $ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity. To put that in perspective, it's more than the GDP of four of the world's 20 largest economies.
COVID and the growing mental health crisis
Fast forward to 2020 and COVID. The pandemic has increased every conceivable stressor in our lives by a level (or more), creating an unprecedented level of fear and isolation. A nationwide survey evaluating the impact of the pandemic on the emotional well-being of adults in the United States found that 90 percent of respondents were suffering from emotional distress.
There is a glimmer of hope, however. Even before COVID, companies were forced to change and address these growing mental health issues. Encouraged by millennials, the topic was discussed more openly. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), almost twice as many Gen Ys (62 percent) said they enjoy discussing their mental health issues, compared with 32 percent of baby boomers. However, it has not always been easy to actually address these concerns.
The American Psychiatric Association Foundation's Center for Workplace Mental Health reports that 77 percent of counties in the United States do not have enough psychiatrists. In a survey by Mercer of over 500 companies, they found that 75 percent of those with over 5,000 employees felt that adequate access was a problem in all or some of their locations, while only 43 percent of small employers felt it was a problem Problem stopped.
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These differences may be related to increasing costs. In a study conducted by Aetna Behavioral Health, they found that mental health costs have increased more than 10 percent annually for five years, compared to a 5 percent annual increase in other medical costs. The cost of treating depression alone was $ 110 billion a year, with employers paying half of that cost.
Is COVID a turning point for mental health?
With so many people so deeply affected, employee mental health support is a business imperative today. The internet is increasingly littered with articles on how companies and managers address the mental health needs of their employees. From video check-ins for wellbeing to one-on-one counseling and meditation apps, companies have started to rapidly implement initiatives.
With more people staying at home for fear of COVID-19, it is clear that the future of care is becoming increasingly digital. Even private insurers are growing, with most expanding their telemedicine coverage, sometimes at no additional cost. This has been a godsend for startups in the digital behavioral health space. Risk funding for this technology has reached unprecedented levels. In the first half of 2020, the pandemic raised a record $ 588 million.
What can companies do?
It's clear that things will never be the same … and in some ways that's a good thing. This shift has forced many companies into difficult discussions about employee mental health and wellbeing that were previously avoided. This new openness helps employees feel more comfortable recognizing how they feel. It's okay not to feel "okay".
This makes the role of managers more complicated and powerful than ever. However, some may feel reluctant to share their own feelings and / or unable to cope with what can easily become an emotionally charged discussion. At the same time, they can suffer too. It's important for companies to make sure they have the training and support they need to, in turn, support their teams.
Four simple steps to better employee wellbeing
The mental and physical wellbeing of employees affects every aspect of their lives. And since the lines between home and work are so blurry now, it literally means that what happens at home can have a significant impact on our performance at work.
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Here are three simple steps you can take to let your employees know that you care about their wellbeing and make sure they can do their best, whatever that currently means.
1. Create a supportive culture
Make it okay not to always feel "okay". Make sure your managers have the tools they need and that you are feeling effective. Create a safe place for employees to share their feelings
2. Offer a range of inexpensive mental health and related services
Share a list of different free or low-cost options your employees can take advantage of. Map access to other services that affect their wellbeing, such as: B. financial support or child / elderly care
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Common words and actions can help people put their own feelings and experiences into context. It reduces uncertainty and can provide much-needed meaning to aid them in adjusting and coping emotionally.