Employee mental health reached a critical point this past year due to pandemic-induced stress from job changes, social isolation, school and care facility closures, health concerns, economic downturns, and an overall sense of uncertainty. While many companies have responded with added tools and resources including telehealth services and increased socialization efforts through virtual communication, statistics show that people continue to struggle.
Even as many places loosen restrictions and vaccine distribution has provided a “light at the end of the tunnel,” employees desperately still need more mental health support.
Since March 2020, the Pew Research Center has conducted online surveys that include five questions relating to depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, loneliness, and physical symptoms of distress. The most recent results were conducted in February 2021 with data from over 10,000 US adults:
Almost half (48%) of participants report rarely or only sometimes feeling hopeful about the future.
Twenty-eight percent say their lives have been changed in a major way by COVID.
About a third (33%) report trouble sleeping all of the time or occasionally, and a similar amount (31%) say they felt “nervous, anxious, or on edge” during half or more of the week prior to taking the survey.
Additionally, 22% reported feeling depressed and 19% felt lonely at least three days or more during the week.
About 17% have a physical reaction at least “some of the time” to just thinking about the pandemic, such as trouble breathing, nausea, heart pounding, or sweating.
Poor mental health can have a critical impact on a company's bottom line
When employees are mentally and emotionally strained, they simply cannot perform well. Workers who are experiencing symptoms of depression miss an average of 31.4 days per year and lose another 27.9 to unproductivity. According to the American Psychiatric Association, employees with unresolved depression experience a 35% reduction in productivity, contributing to a loss to the U.S. economy of $210.5 billion a year in absenteeism, reduced productivity, and medical costs.
A mentally healthy workforce is good for business
The good news is that mental illness—depression in particular—is treatable. With proper care, including therapy, skill building, and medication, 80% of employees treated for mental illness report improved levels of work effectiveness and satisfaction.
“Addressing employee mental health is cost-effective for the employer and beneficial for the employee,” saidPhilip G. Levendusky, PhD, ABPP, director of the Psychology Department at McLean Hospital and a member of the faculty at Harvard Medical School. “When employees receive effective treatment for mental illness, the result is lower total medical costs, increased productivity, lower absenteeism, and decreased disability costs.”
Improve mental health with a proactive approach and compassionate culture
Mental health issues are now so widespread that all employers need to be proactive in supporting their workforce’s mental well-being—even when they do not suspect any issues at all. According to a study by Mind Share Partners, about two-thirds of employees hide their mental health condition at work because of the stigma.
The pandemic was a breaking point for many people that had only previously dealt with manageable bouts of stress or sadness that never required professional intervention. By creating a compassionate company culture with open and supportive leaders, employers can help keep employees from reaching that breaking point in the first place.
To effectively provide support, managers need help identifying the signs of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and other mental or emotional struggles (such as personality changes, irritability, fatigue, or weight loss). Understanding company policies and benefits can also help them better advise employees and make employees feel more comfortable about seeking help or treatment.
It's crucial for employers to recognize that although the benefits might be there, they might not be enough to improve employee mental health. People are experiencing all kinds of symptoms of depression now more than ever, which can take a toll both on employee emotional well-being and company bottom line. By taking a proactive approach and cultivating a compassionate culture, employers can help address those that are still struggling and improve overall company performance.
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