T.The Covid-19 pandemic has seen Americans grappling with financial hardship, long periods of self-quarantine, social distancing, a lack of face-to-face learning for students, and the general unrest that comes from not having them for the past year know when life will come back to some semblance of normalcy. And while measures are needed to contain the spread of the virus, mental health experts are increasingly concerned that these restrictions have prepared the country for a wave of secondary effects. They specifically point to the consequences of increased alcohol abuse, opioid addiction, and untreated depression and anxiety as the next crisis.
Employers have responded by expanding their mental health offerings to help employees manage these issues. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that employees at different levels of their organization have different perceptions, levels of comfort, and even access to mental health services. Filling this void is an essential next step in helping companies truly navigate the emotional wreckage of the pandemic. In addition to ensuring that they offer help, companies need to take steps to ensure that workers at all levels feel safe and have access to that help.
“Companies have been very vocal about the mental health offerings they launched during the pandemic, but they really need to go a step further to see what kind of employees are using these services,” said Allison Walsh, vice president from Advanced recovery systems, a behavioral medicine company.
Her company recently surveyed 2,000 Americans about their mental health during the pandemic to gain a better understanding of the role of employers. Participants were asked about their mental health over the past six months, and a staggering 75% said they had mental health symptoms such as anxiety and nervousness. Stress; Depression or loneliness; and anger. And while 64% of respondents said their company offered some type of mental health resource, there was a significant gap between the workers who use it.
The survey found that 70% of managers and above reported using mental health resources in their organization, compared with just 31% of subordinate workers. In addition, 32% of subordinate workers were unsure whether their insurance covered these services, compared with just 8% of managers who were unsure. And perhaps most worryingly, nearly 70% of managers and executives felt comfortable talking to their boss about a mental health problem, while only 48% of subordinate workers felt it.
“We know from our research that the main reason people don’t even get treatment is because they’re worried about what their employer will think or if they’ll lose their job,” says Walsh. “This is what we hear every day, and that’s why we ask what companies are doing to encourage workers at all levels to access this care and be comfortable with it.”
According to Walsh, one of the most effective strategies is for the dialogue to begin in the C-suite. She points to Kim Lopdrup, CEO of the Red Lobster restaurant chain, as example that kind of top-down approach. “He’s on camera and says if you need help, if someone in your family needs help, this is what we offer and we will reach out,” she explains. “Executives need to make it clear that it is okay to speak up when people have problems and that doing so will not cause them to lose their jobs.”
Some other ways companies can address this potential mental health crisis:
- Make mental health an on-going business conversation. “It’s not just something you deal with during Mental Health Awareness Week,” says Walsh. “It has to be part of the dialogue that is ongoing.”
- Be practical. Share information on ways to access mental health providers and services. As workers are currently away from the workplace, this information needs to be shared with workers during virtual town hall meetings or other communications.
- Make sure frontline and lower-tier employees know what behavioral health services your company has. “Managers are usually part of the conversation about these topics and know what’s going on,” says Walsh. “Bottom and front-line workers typically aren’t. So companies need to put extra effort into getting this information out to them and reiterating that it’s okay to feel wrong in the moment.”
If businesses don’t face this growing mental health crisis, the consequences will be dire, says Walsh. “Companies will replace their workforce,” she says. “If you don’t care about your people, your people won’t care about your company.”
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.