Mental Health Index Data Shines Spotlight on 3 Key Employer Challenges

Experts Use Data to Look Back, Look Forward on Workplace Mental Health at the National Alliance 2021 Annual Forum

Louis Gagnon, CEO, Total Brain, spoke to attendees at the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions’ 2021 Annual Forum about the state of workplace mental health@. Gagnon was joined by National Alliance President and CEO, Michael Thompson, and Colleen McHugh, executive vice president of the American Health Policy Institute and strategic advisor for HR Policy Association. In its 25th year, the Forum is a leading healthcare and benefits conference bringing together employers, coalitions and other stakeholders.

Louis Gagnon, CEO, Total Brain

On November 9, Gagnon, Thompson and McHugh hosted a panel discussion, Looking Back, Looking Forward on Workplace Mental Health@ a Conversation. Much of the exchange was based on key findings from the Mental Health@ Index: U.S. Worker Edition.

According to the index data, released in October, when compared to before COVID-19, workers risk of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is up 53%, while their capacity for sustained attention is down 53%. Further, anxiety is up 13% in contrast to pre-pandemic data.

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“The PTSD numbers do not reflect clinical diagnostics; rather, they are a measure of how people are responding to extreme feelings and thoughts,” explained Gagnon. “The data demonstrates that our mental health@ and wellbeing is not only driven internally. We are also largely influenced by our external environment. For employers, the Mental Health Index findings underscore the stunning impact that external factors like political and economic environments, market conditions, leadership and workplace culture have on workers’ mental health.”

Gagnon, Thompson and McHugh covered top trends in employee mental health over the past 18 months and discussed key challenges for employers as they reconsider their business models and guide employees’ return to work.

  • Productivity and Performance: Chronic pandemic-induced stress and anxiety have unleashed a nine-month surge in PTSD. U.S. employers are faced with a fearful and overwhelmed workforce unable to focus. They are easily distracted and overreactive. Productivity and quality of work may suffer. Employers are challenged to lead with empathy and authenticity by sharing their own struggles; expecting and forgiving mistakes; and encouraging workers to express their concerns and fears.
  • Workplace Culture/Environment: The environment has an oversized impact on mental health and wellbeing. Employers are challenged to address trauma in the workplace by understanding their role in exacerbating trauma and their power to help alleviate workers’ overwhelming anxiety by treating mental health@ and physical health as inextricably intertwined.
  • Flexibility: Mental health struggles, from stress and anxiety to diagnosed mental health conditions, cannot be put on hold to accommodate a nine-to-five, five-day-a-week, on-site job. Employers are up against a forever changed workforce with new expectations and priorities. Business leaders are challenged to leverage the power of flexibility to help improve the mental health of workers as they struggle to return to the workplace and maintain balanced lives.

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Thompson said, “We had a mental health crisis before the pandemic and that crisis has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. We must address the issues of affordable access to all levels of quality mental health services. Collectively, the public and private sector must work together to motivate change. If we do not, things will only get worse.”

“Corporate culture is a priority and focus of HR executives,” said McHugh. “The mindset of employees and how they show up to work makes a difference in an organization’s success. Creating a corporate culture that de-stigmatizes mental health issues and integrates mental health resources into the core benefits structure will be critical moving forward.”

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