We are in the midst of a public mental health crisis; how employers can help

Jon Hyman

12 May 2021

Consider these statistics, courtesy of the National Institute of Mental Health, which recently examined mental health issues one year into the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • 31 percent of people report symptoms of anxiety or depression​.
  • 13 percent report having started or increased substance use​.
  • 26 percent report stress-related symptoms​.
  • 11 percent report having serious thoughts of suicide in the past 30 days​.
These grim numbers tell me that COVID-19 has created a national mental health crisis. At least some of your employees are struggling. Your challenge is what to do about it.
Here are four suggestions.
1. Check the benefits available to your employees. Do you have an employee assistance plan and are its mental health and counseling services are up to date? Are your health insurance plan’s mental health benefits easy to access and affordable? Do your employees know about state-offered resources, such as Ohio’s CareLine, a 24/7 community administered emotional support call service (800-720-9616)?
2. Revisit paid time off policies and consider providing employees the time they need to take care of themselves and their families. And understand that everyone’s situation at home is different. Some only have themselves to worry about, while others have families, older parents, etc. None of this is ideal, but for some, it’s less ideal than for others, depending on how much non-work responsibilities are on one’s plate.
3. Consider holding town halls or all-employee meetings that focus on mental health awareness. If senior leadership encourages education and communication around mental health issues, your employees will be more likely to access care if and when they need it. Leadership always starts from the top, and it’s vital that leadership leads on this issue.
4. Small gestures of kindness can go a long way. An extra day paid day off, a gift certificate for takeout meals or grocery deliveries or a surprise delivery of a mid-day snack can help employees feel appreciated and connected instead of overwhelmed and stressed.
Also, do not forget about or ignore your ADA obligations. The statute covers mental impairments no differently than physical impairments. If an employee is suffering from a mental illness you have an affirmative obligation to reasonably accommodate that employee, which might involve, for example, unpaid time off for the employee to obtain needed treatment.
Finally, do not ignore these issues or your employees who are living with them. Mental health illnesses are no different than other illnesses from which we suffer.
Treating them differently only increases the stigma that surrounds them and pushes individuals deeper into their illnesses and further away from the treatment they need.

Written by Jon Hyman


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