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Let’s take a collective deep breath.
We’re now at the start of year four since the global turning point of the COVID-19 pandemic, and everything it’s wrought on our world.
There continues to be worldwide instability in the realms of geopolitics, supply chains, and devastating weather events. Threats of an economic downturn seem to live in the headlines almost daily.
In the face of such instability, how do employees and their families cope with their mental health? Not well, according to the statistics:
- Nearly 50 million American adults report having a mental illness
- 50% of adults with a mental illness don’t receive any treatment
- Mental health costs more than cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease
- 16.3 trillion is the estimated economic output loss due to mental health from 2011-2030
- Globally, one in seven adolescents between 10 and 19 years old are dealing with a mental health condition
Prior to the pandemic, there was already a crisis in mental health, which has now been greatly exacerbated by the previous three years.
It’s clear that grappling with mental health needs will continue to be top of mind for employees and organizations in 2023.
A new phase of mental health support at work
The pandemic shone a spotlight on a global shift already taking place, acknowledging that mental health is something people experience in all facets of life—both at home and at work.
As with any complex dynamic, it hasn't been a neat, linear transition. There are conversations happening every single day within organizations, across industries, in the media, and among individuals.
There's no simple way to sum up these conversations, but it’s fair to say that a focus on mental health is here to stay. Which raises these questions:
- What employee mental health issues will take precedence in 2023?
- What barriers are there to addressing workplace mental health?
- What are some best practices for integrating mental health solutions into the workplace?
Let’s dive into all the answers to all three.
6 areas of increasing employee mental health needs
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy says, “the mental health crisis is the biggest concern facing the country because it impacts so many people and different facets of life.”
Although there’s quite a wide range of employee needs around mental health, leaders will see an increasing need in these six areas this year.
Treatment for substance use disorders
Substance use disorders (SUDs) have continued to increase during the pandemic. One in twelve employees is dealing with a substance use disorder, which means that millions are working while living with a SUD.
Substance use also increased dramatically during the pandemic. All these statistics point to an issue that’s increasingly important to address in the workplace.
A need for youth-focused care
For millions of young people, the pandemic occurred during formative periods of their lives.
Younger children missed out on their entry into socialization at school. Middle schoolers and high schoolers lost out on important years of learning emotional resilience and navigating relationships, both interpersonal and group related.
For both remote and office workers, performance suffered as stressors at home skyrocketed and working parents struggled to balance remote schooling, childcare, work, and their children’s mental health struggles.
Young people are still struggling. According to the World Health Organization, “depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders are among the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents,” and it’s crucial to address these conditions early.
Organizations can provide support with a mental health benefit for employees’ children and adolescents this year. It’s also important to consider the mounting need for childcare.
Diversity that’s more than surface deep
There’s been a lot of discussion around diversity in the workplace, but one thing that doesn’t get talked about enough is the need for mental health solutions that address diverse employee populations.
It’s already really difficult to find a therapist while suffering from a mental health issue. For people in marginalized communities, there’s an added burden of facing discrimination while searching for a therapist, and/or the therapist lacking an understanding of their background or experiences.
The majority of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and therapists are white. The average age of psychiatrists is 65, most are nearing retirement, and there aren’t enough entering the field to fill the shortage.
Therapeutic alliance is the bond that forms between the therapist and patient based on mutual engagement during therapy. Similar lived experiences, backgrounds, and identity markers are an important component of alliance in the therapy relationship—making the ability to access a diverse provider network key to better mental health outcomes.
Solutions for a global workforce
In a world where companies routinely do business around the globe and have employees in multiple countries, mental health solutions that are culturally competent and relevant to local workforces are more important than ever.
Although there are certain touchstones fundamental to any mental health solution, such as evidence-based care, direct scheduling, and gathering data through assessment, these solutions must also take into account the specifics of the places where they’re being utilized.
For example, suicide in India is a crime, but was recently decriminalized so people who are struggling with mental health can get help. But fear and stigma around even discussing suicide still exists, and any EAP offering in India must be tailored to this specific cultural norm.
Continuing to work on the basics
Despite the new focus on mental health during the pandemic, and the new technology and solutions available to push mental health solutions forward, we still need to work on the basics.
These include eating well, getting enough exercise and sleep, mitigating stress, and connecting with others to create balance and navigate the demands of today’s workplace.
Both employees and leaders can also benefit from learning more about how to manage anxiety, stress, and depression, develop better sleep habits and work-life balance, and build resilience—a particularly useful skill during uncertain times.
AI and machine learning are powerful, emerging tools
In many ways, 2022 was the year AI and machine learning became part of the mainstream conversation. There are now applications of machine learning that help address the 200+ mental health diagnoses, 200+ modalities and options for mental health, and the 70% failure rate of first treatments.
Look for AI and machine learning techniques to become more integrated into mental health solutions during 2023 and beyond.
6 mental health best practices for organizations
These best practices can help you address the increasing mental health needs, and better support your employees.
Think about the impact you want to make
Maybe there’s already a traditional EAP in place, and leaders are getting feedback from employees that it’s not meeting their needs. Or maybe the company isn’t ready to make the investment into a comprehensive EAP, but still wants to enhance what they’re already doing with something like a network overlay.
Consider the impact you want to make this year, determine the resources that are available to you, and build your plan. This can include smaller steps that show employees you care about their mental health and are making it a priority.
Start and encourage conversations about mental health
If a comprehensive EAP is outside the current budget, choose key mental health issues that are affecting the organization and focus on those. Depression and anxiety are major factors affecting employee wellbeing, and cost companies a lot of money in missed workdays and disengagement.
Encourage conversations about mental health in the workplace to reduce stigma and boost employee wellbeing. You can do this by asking leadership and employees to share their mental health journeys, host an educational workshop on one of the topics you’re focusing on, and consider offering mental health days.
Provide mental health training
Incorporate mental health education into leadership training, and provide training for employees as well. This equips all levels of your organization to recognize warning signs and know how to engage with and support an employee who may be struggling with their mental health.
Getting frontline managers involved is critical to this effort. They have direct relationships with the most employees, can model good behavior around mental health, and are often the first to know when something is wrong.
Incorporate aspects of mental health into the workplace
These can include check-ins with the workforce or by department (even just once a quarter), wellness practices, and pulse surveys.
Always be sure to follow up on any issues that are raised. This sends the message that you’re listening to employee challenges and needs, and care about their mental health.
Broaden your ERG base
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) provide a space for employees to network and share ideas. They’re also an excellent way to reach and support underrepresented groups, while finding out how they’re really doing.
Prioritize resources for ERGs, and regularly remind employees of the groups that are available. Ask for and take action on their feedback.
Remind employees about mental health resources
Communicate with employees regularly about the mental health benefits and resources that are available to them. You can do this over email or Slack, in the company newsletter, or all three to ensure everyone is aware of the mental health support your company offers to employees and their dependents.
In 2023, let’s have more conversations about mental health at work
Globally, there’s a major shift happening around mental health—something so fundamental to the human experience. This is developing more and more opportunities to bring conversations about mental health into the workplace, where they’ve long been absent.
Starting these conversations is often the hardest part, and taking small steps can lead to larger organizational changes.
You can change your employees’ lives by advocating for the mental health support they need, building a plan to implement that support, embracing diverse ideas and perspectives, and always leading with empathy.
Read this blog for three ways to encourage workplace wellbeing, and achieve a higher performing organization with lower rates of burnout.