Mental Health Services Continue to Rise in Popularity for Employers

Already an area of focus, employers plan to double down on mental health and emotional well-being plan as they continue to address the COVID-19 pandemic. This comes as no surprise, given the fact that employee mental health has reached an all-time low, one year after the pandemic. Read on for more key findings and four ways to target pandemic-induced mental health struggles.

Employee mental health reaches an all-time low, one year after the pandemic

December 2020 marked the lowest levels of employee mental well-being, according to the Mental Health Index by Total Brain. Between November and December, the Index reported a 48% increase risk for depressive disorders. During the same time, overall employee focus plummeted by 62%, the worst drop in one year. Negativity increased by 9%. 

Employers expanding mental health and emotional well-being services

The 2021 Large Employers' Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey  from the Business Group on Health shows a key trend for employer plans this year is the expansion of virtual mental health and emotional well-being services to address provider shortages, minimize wait times, and reduce the stigma associated with seeking care. Some key findings from the survey include:

  • More than two-thirds of respondents (69%) provide access to online mental health support resources such as apps, videos, and articles, and that number will jump to 88% in 2021.
  • Roughly half (47%) provide manager training to help recognize mental and behavioral health issues and direct employees to services. Another 18% plan to do so in 2021.
  • Half of respondents (50%) will conduct anti-stigma campaigns in 2021.

Employers are also helping to address cost barriers by reducing out-of-pocket costs for mental health services.

  • More than half (54%) are lowering or waiving costs for virtual mental health services in 2021.  
  • More than a quarter (27%) will reduce the cost of counseling services at the worksite, bolstering the trend to bring services directly to employees.

“Employers were already prioritizing mental health and emotional well-being before the pandemic hit. Now it’s a significant crisis. In addition to those individuals with pre-existing mental health needs, many more employees and family members are now dealing with anxiety, stress or loneliness. We expect employers will boost their investment in programs that support employees’ mental health and emotional well-being,” said Ellen Kelsay, President and Chief Executive Officer of Business Group on Health.

Four ways to target pandemic-induced mental health struggles

Common wellness benefits like access to mental wellness resources, counseling, paid time off, stress management tools, and meditation and mindfulness resources are great, but companies can also expand benefits to specifically target some of the struggles unique to this time period and pandemic:

  1. Address Social Isolation. Loneliness has increased dramatically due to social distancing and isolation protocols. Virtual communication is great, and often easy to implement, but companies should start thinking about more creative ways to get people together. This can be as simple as organizing a phone call, but could also include small outdoor gatherings that have safety protocols in place.

  2. Encourage “Staycations” And Personal Days Off. Increasing paid time off might sound like a great way for employees to take mental health days—but not if they don’t use that benefit. Make sure that employees are encouraged to use their vacation time even though they may be unable to travel currently. Communicate the benefits that personal days off without responsibilities or plans can provide, such as stress reduction, improved relaxation, and mental clarity.

  3. Support Families And Personal Finance. For many, it is not job tasks that are weighing down their mental and emotional state the most. With businesses closing and economies struggling, many do not know how to handle a loss of income in their household, or they are struggling under increased caregiving and schooling responsibilities. Benefits that support caregivers along with resources and education on personal finance can help guide many employees that are feeling lost amidst major life changes and events.

  4. Help Employees Learn Something New. Employees may be feeling discouraged and unmotivated a year into the pandemic, especially for those working from home and coping with less structure in their week. Getting to know an employee’s career goals and then helping them with education or relevant training can boost their inspiration and sense of purpose. Learning something new, working with a different team or department, or taking on challenging roles may help improve their engagement, confidence, and feelings of self-worth. 

Above all, employers should make sure that they create an open and supportive environment where people feel comfortable getting and asking for help when they need it. A positive work culture can be what sustains employees through this difficult time period. 

Not sure where to start? Download our wellness toolkit today to begin the conversation around mental health.

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