3 Mental Health Issues Most Urgent for Employers

Image credit: iStockphoto/francescoch

In a recent Forum held in the U.S., HR leaders and solutions providers highlighted three urgent mental health issues that employers need to manage.

During the panel discussion “Looking Back, Looking Forward on Workplace Mental Health — a Conversation,” the panelists spoke about key findings from the Mental Health Index: the U.S. Worker Edition. Many of the conclusions are also applicable around the world.

According to the index data released in October 2021, workers' risk of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) rose 53% compared to before COVID-19. Meanwhile, their capacity for sustained attention was down 53%. Anxiety was also up 13% in contrast to pre-pandemic data.

"The PTSD numbers do not reflect clinical diagnostics; rather, they are a measure of how people are responding to extreme feelings and thoughts," said Louis Gagnon, chief executive officer at Total Brain.

"The data demonstrates that our mental health and wellbeing is not only driven internally. We are also largely influenced by our external environment. For employers, the Mental Health Index findings underscore the stunning impact that external factors like political and economic environments, market conditions, leadership and workplace culture have on workers' mental health."

Gagnon, who joined Michael Thompson, president and chief executive officer at National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, and Colleen McHugh, executive vice president of the American Health Policy Institute and strategic advisor for HR Policy Association, in the panel discussion covered three mental focus areas that have grave implications for employers worldwide:

  • Productivity and Performance: Chronic pandemic-induced stress and anxiety unleashed a nine-month surge in PTSD. U.S. employers now employ a fearful and overwhelmed workforce unable to focus. They are easily distracted and overreactive with productivity and quality of work suffering. Employers need to lead with empathy and authenticity by sharing their struggles, expecting and forgiving mistakes, and encouraging workers to express their concerns and fears.
  • Workplace Culture/Environment: The environment now significantly impacts employee mental health and wellbeing. Employers are challenged to address workplace-related trauma by understanding their role in treating mental and physical health.
  • Flexibility: Mental health struggles, from stress and anxiety to diagnosed mental health conditions, cannot be sidelined to meet the needs of a nine-to-five, five-day-a-week, on-site job. Employers need to acknowledge that their workers have new expectations and priorities. Business leaders need to leverage flexibility to help improve workers' mental health as they struggle to return to the workplace and maintain balanced lives.

Thompson said, "We had a mental health crisis before the pandemic and that crisis has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. We must address the issues of affordable access to all levels of quality mental health services. Collectively, the public and private sectors must work together to motivate change. If we do not, things will only get worse."

"Corporate culture is a priority and focus of HR executives," added McHugh. "The mindset of employees and how they show up to work makes a difference in an organization's success. Creating a corporate culture that de-stigmatizes mental health issues and integrates mental health resources into the core benefits structure will be critical moving forward."

Image credit: iStockphoto/francescoch