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Employee mental health is a huge concern after such a brutal stretch

Jeanne Sahadi (CNN Business)

07/19/2021

Living in a perpetual state of disruption, uncertainty and grief can test anyone's mental health.

And events of the past 16 months have delivered all of those in spades thanks to a steady stream of horrors, including but hardly limited to the deadly pandemic, George Floyd's murder, the January 6 Capitol insurrection and attacks against Asian-Americans.

They've also catapulted employee mental health to the top of many employers' list of concerns and priorities.

"[Employers] understand the impact on mental health is going to have a long tail on it. Once you've gotten vaccinated, mental health issues don't go away. And once you're back in the workplace, mental health issues don't go away," said Sandra Kuhn, the national leader for the behavioral health practice at benefits consulting firm Mercer.

If there's any upside, it's that the taboo of talking about mental health at work has gone down. In a survey of 1,005 employees by The Hartford, a majority indicated their company's culture has been more accepting of mental health challenges in the past year.

"The stigma around mental health is rapidly decreasing. It's now a part of everyday conversation. So employers have more visibility into mental distress in their workforce," said Joe Grasso, senior director of workforce mental health at Lyra Health, which provides employees access to a network of mental health professionals and related resources.

Issues related to anxiety and depression are among the most common conditions that Lyra Health's practitioners are seeing in their sessions, Grasso said. And there has been an increase in employee searches for race-based trauma care, as well as requests for mental health providers of color, he noted.

While many employers have had mental health service benefits on the books, they are now stepping up those offerings by providing easier and more efficient access to them, doing more to educate employees about mental health, and training managers to communicate with their teams about the resources available, Kuhn said.

Employers are also offering education about alcohol and substance use disorders, she added. Many people have been drinking more as a way to cope with stress and there also has been increased drug consumption, with the highest annual number of opioid overdose deaths reported in 2020.

Mercer also has seen an increase in insurance claims for treatment of substance use disorders by their clients' employees and their families, Kuhn noted.

Here's how managers can approach mental health issues with their teams.

Recognize the signs

It's important for managers to have insight into what it means to feel anxious or depressed so they can best guide an employee to the resources that might help, Kuhn said.

Signs of distress include any changes in behavior, mood, productivity or engagement, according to Mercer. That might mean more absences, increased anger or irritation or having trouble concentrating.

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    Company Culture
    Leadership
    Mental Health

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