Mental Health
March 23, 2021

Mental Health during Covid-19 and the Workplace - 2021 Report

Content warning: this blog posts mentions screening data concerning suicide, self-harm, anxiety, and depression.

The numbers are in - the Mental Health America (MHA) study on workplace health is an annual study on the state of mental health in America. Few situations in human history have touched the entire world in this way - and it's pretty clear that the uncertainties that come with living in unprecedented times affect all of us in different ways.

With the recent publication of these studies, with clinically-validated screenings written by the experts, and varied and vast sample sizes - we are finally putting some numbers to what we all are suspecting. Here at Wellspring, we've been following their recent updates and will break down some of the key findings for their national surveys (which include youth and those outside the workforce) as well as how mental health has been affected specifically by the workplace.

Through this post, we hope to give you and your team some understanding and guidance that many people (shockingly many) are dealing with similar issues, so that you can find a way to talk about it with your teams. We'll look at what the experts say are the strongest links between mental health and the workplace so you can feel empowered to do something about it that doesn't feel like a shot in the dark. And, as new resources are released this month, we'll help provide some toolkits, mental illness screens, and conversations that can help your teams wether you are participating in mental health awareness month in may or not. Follow us here to keep that pipeline open.

The State of Mental Health during Covid-19

Mental Health America (MHA) published their 54-page study this month, which looks at the results 1,560,288 people submitted in the MHA's online screening program from January-September 2020 across all 50 states and the district of Columbia.

Founded in 1909, the MHA is one of the world's earliest champions of mental health, and is currently the nation's leading community-based non-profit. Their work early in the 20th century helped found mental health awareness month which is coming up in May - and brought about a change in public understanding and discourse on mental health.

Their findings give some empirical basis to what everyone's suspected: the COVID-19 pandemic has had a debilitating impact on the nation and its people’s physical, mental, and financial health. It's affecting everyone, employed or not, young and old, in every industry and company size. And overall, the numbers are bleak, but they need to be looked at.

Key Findings:

  • The number of people who are seeking help for anxiety and depression have skyrocketed, with a 93% increase and a 63% increase respectively.
  • The number of people with moderate to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety have increased dramatically - over 8 in 10 people who took either anxiety or depression screens scored with symptoms of moderate or severe consistently throughout the pandemic.
  • People reporting thoughts of suicide and self-harm have reached an all-time high, since the MHA's elective screening program launched in 2014.
  • Young people are struggling the most with their mental health, especially among LGBTQ+ youth. Not only are the number of youth (ages 11-17) searching for mental health help increasing, but the age group is more likely than any other to score for moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety, depression, or suicidal ideation. Over half of those screened reported frequent thoughts (defined as half or or nearly every day for the past 2 weeks) in September 2020, with almost half of that number being LGBTQ+ identifying youth.
  • People that screen at risk for mental health conditions struggle most with loneliness or isolation. 70% reported that one of the top three things that contribute to their mental health concerns were loneliness or isolation.
  • While rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation are increasing for people of all races and ethnicities, there are notable differences. Those who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander are seeking mental health assistance more than ever before, making up 9% of screeners in 2019, and 16% in 2020. Black or African American screeners have the highest average percent increase in anxiety and depression, and Native American or American Indian screeners have the highest average percent increase in suicidal ideation.

While Covid-19 is threatening the morbidity and mortality of the entire nation, its effects on the mental health is also clear. The almost overnight challenges to our physical and social environments have created a landscape of isolation, financial difficulties, housing or food insecurities, and interpersonal violence when friction occurs. Any one of these issues places considerable stress on a person's mental wellbeing, but all together creates a silent and invisible mental health crisis in tandem with the very visible public health crisis. If it's not addressed too, it's effects could be felt for years, if not generations after the pandemic is over.

Mental Health in the Workplace during Covid-19

Everyone is experiencing the mental toll and fatigue of the pandemic, now that we are a year in. The working world entered the pandemic unprepared; people rushed to ensure physical health and took some time to realize mental health was important too. In that adjustment period, various coping strategies were tested, refined, or discarded, and every literate American adopted the term "mental health" into the common lexicon.

Overall, when we examine the data since 2014, the pandemic has ushered in some key changes; we've never been so stressed, or anxious about our financial wellbeing in times of prolonged uncertainty. Working Americans feel like their employers and supervisors are unsympathetic to these stresses, and as a result, 56% of Americans are actively looking for a new job. And if that number surprises you- it's actually quite conservative compared to Ceridian's recent study that found 64% of Americans are actively looking for new work.

Breaking it down even further - as unemployment rate increased to 14.7% in April 2020 and has yet to return to its 3.5% pre-pandemic rate, and with job creation slowing, many of those actively searching for a change feel trapped. This, especially in team settings, affects productivity, which affects satisfaction and mood, creating a negative-feedback loop that is hard to leash.

Here are the findings from the MHA's Mind the Workplace 2021 Report:

Workplace stress has a strong effect on mental health

  • Nearly 9 in 10 employees report that their workplace stress affects their mental health. Eighty-five percent of respondents agreed (somewhat to strongly agreed) that their workplace stress affects their mental health.
  • Over 65 percent of employees find it difficult to concentrate because of their work environment, compared to 46 percent of respondents in 2018. Of employees who strongly agreed that they feel emotionally drained by their work, over 85 percent agreed (somewhat agreed to strongly agreed) that they felt distracted because of their work environment.
  • Nearly 3 in 5 employees feel that their employer does not provide a safe environment for employees who live with mental illness. Over 56 percent of respondents disagreed that their employers provide a safe and welcoming environment for employees who live with mental illnesses. Less than 5 percent of respondents strongly agreed with this statement.
  • The majority of employees surveyed are seeking new employment opportunities. Over 56 percent of employees reported that they spend time looking for a new position, compared to 40 percent of respondents in 2018.

Employees are burning out

  • Nearly 83% of respondents felt emotionally drained from their work, and early signs of burnout with over 40% stating they strongly agreed with this statement.
  • Of those 83% of respondents who strongly agreed that they feel emotionally drained by their work, 99% of them agreed (somewhat agreed to strongly agreed), and 71% strongly agreed that their workplace stress affects their mental health.
  • Over 23% of employees reported that they don’t care what happens to their colleagues or clients. Nearly 1 in 4 employees experienced the more severe signs of burnout, including reduced professional efficacy and cynicism towards coworkers and their jobs.

Financial insecurities are more felt

  • Employees who report earning an annual income of less than $60,000 are concerned about their financial situations. 58% of all respondents reported that they worry about not having enough money to pay for their living expenses, with 1 in 5 employees strongly agreeing with this statement. Over 65% of Work Health Survey respondents were employees with an annual individual income of less than $60,000.
  • Nearly 2 in 3 employees cannot save for an emergency. Over 60% of respondents reported that they are not paid enough to save for an emergency, with nearly 29% strongly agreeing with this statement. The threshold in which people felt comfortable to save for an emergency was an individual income of at least $80,000 per year. Nearly 80% of Work Health Survey respondents reported earning an individual income level of less than $80,000 per year.
  • About 1 in 3 employees cannot afford their healthcare costs. Nearly 34% of respondents reported that they were unable to afford their health care costs. Employees who reported earning less than $20,000 per year, which represented 18 percent of respondents, were more likely to report being unable to afford their own or their family’s health care costs than employees who reported higher incomes.

Direct supervisors and HR directives play massive roles in workplace mental health

  • Employees are not receiving adequate support from supervisors to help manage stress. About 59% of respondents disagreed that their supervisor provides emotional support to help them manage their stress, and 25% of employees strongly disagreed with this statement.
  • Of employees who strongly disagreed that their supervisors provide emotional support, over 85% disagreed that their employers provide a safe and welcoming environment for employees who live with mental illnesses.
  • Talking to a supervisor to change stressful things about work was most strongly correlated with the healthiest overall workplace health scores. Open and honest discussions between supervisors and employees about job stressors is one important area of focus for employers concerned about employee mental health and healthy work environments.
  • Employees who cannot talk to their supervisors about job stressors are less likely to perceive their workplace as a safe environment for employees who live with mental illnesses. Of employees who strongly disagreed that they could talk to their supervisor to change stressful things about their work, 87% disagreed that their employers provide a safe and welcoming environment for employees who live with mental illnesses.
  • Employers who do not provide and educate employees about mental health resources are less likely to be perceived as a safe environment for employees who live with mental illnesses. Of employees who strongly disagreed that they know what resources they could use if they needed emotional support, over 85% disagreed that their employers provide a safe and welcoming environment for employees who live with mental illnesses, with over 48% who strongly disagreed with this statement.
  • Employees who feel acknowledged at work are less likely to seek out other employment opportunities. Of employees who strongly agreed that they felt acknowledged and accepted at work, nearly 77% disagreed, and over 50% strongly disagreed that they spend time looking for a new position.

There is some good news - these insights are actionable. There are relationships, factors, and findings here that you can use to improve your workplace for your employees. Though the courses of action will vary depending on your company, take some time, some real time (weeks, not while you finish that coffee) to think about how your company would have scored on here, and what you can do to improve the lives and mental stressors of your colleagues.

Here are some ideation points:

  • How can you make employees feel more secure about their financial situations?
  • Are there financial or social solutions for emergencies that employees should know about?
  • Is your current healthcare plan sufficient for your employees needs? Is there a way to get feedback from employees on this? Are there aspects of the health care fund (such as Wellness Dollars, health fair provisions, or check-ups) that you aren't taking advantage of?
  • If you do an honest audit of the emotional intelligence of your company's supervisors, would they score well? Findings here are pretty clear on how much direct supervisors affect mental health - and people often quit their bosses, not their jobs. How can you make emotional intelligence a core competency for management?
  • How can you provide resources and spaces for dialogue on mental health? How can you create safe and welcoming environments for those with mental illnesses, or discussions on mental health? (and, does your health insurance provider also have resources?)
  • How can you make employees feel acknowledged and accepted?

A lot of our clients have used our kits to break the ice on these discussions and make their employees feel acknowledged - for virtual health fairs, tokens of appreciation, and also for mental health discussions. As our partner brands are all about wellness (physically, mentally, and spiritually,) we've had clients use our kits to educate their teams on what mental health resources are available to them and where to find it. Putting something awesome into their hands is always going to outpace a company wide email by astronomical bounds.

It creates a snowball of momentum. Teams feel engaged with goodies in their hands that make trying new things easy. Work group chats light up with discussions on the products. People dig through the links and inserts with high engagement. And employees feel happy that their managers have taken some time to think about them and do something to make them feel special.

If you are interested in seeing our kits and what we can do for you to start this dense and difficult discussion with everyone- please contact our team here.