How mental health measures can protect employees in an uncertain world

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Employers in the United States and around the world are doing their best to track public health data on Covid-19 to try to make the best decisions about how to protect their employees and those they serve. But this data is only part of the story. To safely reopen, stay open or stay home, and ultimately regain the “new” normal, organizations must also monitor and make decisions based on mental health needs.

The most effective mental health measures will be ongoing, providing real-time information on the situation of the workforce amid Covid-19, racial justice protests and other disruptive events. Early research from the World Health Organization, the Kaiser Family Foundation and others has already demonstrated the immense impact of the pandemic on mental health. Now employers can play a critical role in continuing to assess mental health and ensuring employees have access to the resources they need.

A new workplace mental health project, the Mental Health Index: US Worker Edition, co-sponsored by the National Alliance, HR Policy Alliance and One Mind and produced by Total Brain, is helping to address this need. Each month, the Index presents updated results from a random sample of hundreds of American workers, on topics such as anxiety and depressive disorder risk, emotional awareness, and negativity. The result is an ongoing and detailed examination of how the impacts on mental health are changing and where the needs are greatest. For example, data released on July 17 showed that the risk of depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and general anxiety disorder among U.S. employees has increased by at least 40% each since February. Interestingly, the reopening of some businesses in June seems to have brought some relief, especially for women who were the worst affected segment in the study. However, the worsening rate of infection and cases across the country means the numbers are likely to get worse before they get better.

While the June figures are encouraging, mental illness is a major concern for long-term economic recovery. Even before the pandemic, depression alone cost the United States tens of billions of dollars in lost productivity every year. Without a concerted response from employers, the costs of mental illness threaten to climb to unsustainable levels in the wake of Covid-19.

There are three essential steps organizations can take to protect workers not only from the risk of infection, but also from mental illness:

Provide tools for employees to assess mental health

There are a multitude of employee mental health assessment tools and applications; employers just need to decide what is best for their workers and what mental health measures will help guide decisions. The most effective tools will be easy to use and understand, protect worker privacy, and deliver actionable results and resources. However, providing or using a tool is not enough. Organizations should also engage their leaders and managers to actively discuss the importance of mental health, share their own experiences, and encourage workers to leverage resources. Stigma and fear of discrimination do not go away easily. It takes a long-term, concerted effort.

Ensure access to mental health resources

Once workers have assessed their mental health needs, they need to access resources, services and providers to meet those needs. The main employers are mobilizing to strengthen these offers in this area given the challenges of Covid-19. For example, EY offers employees free access to apps to build emotional resilience, individual or group counseling, and daily walk-in sessions where employees can learn tips for dealing with anxiety, stress and stress. ‘social isolation. Likewise, PwC is providing access to wellness coaches throughout the pandemic to discuss stressors, while the US Department of Veterans Affairs has released a comprehensive toolkit to help executives support their staff during the pandemic. of a national emergency.

Continuously improve response with constantly evolving resources and discussions

2020 has shown that stress, life disruptions and mental tensions can change suddenly and the future remains uncertain. Although employers cannot predict how Covid-19 or other challenges – which could include national disasters, pandemics or social movements – will evolve – they can building the infrastructure, tools and conversations to respond effectively to any new mental health impact, whatever the next step.

Workforce mental health metrics are key to charting the way forward during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond. Just as employers play a central role in mitigating the spread of the virus, they can play an active role in understanding and responding to changing mental health impacts. This will protect the lives and health of workers, accelerate economic recovery and lay the foundation for mental health in the workplace permanently.

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