Unprecedented stress levels are one of the worst aftereffects of the COVID pandemic. There was so much chaos and confusion at the time everything was happening. We found ourselves dealing with broken hearts and dreams as we dealt with the many uncertainties we faced. Almost overnight, everything changed, and we faced many challenges. We had to find new ways to work. Homeschooling our children was suddenly not optional. Not going out for coffee or a drink with friends made us sad and often isolated us. Trying to take the proper steps and remain safe, even as people we maybe knew were not making it through, was agonizing. The intensity of those days felt never-ending.
The loneliness and isolation were perhaps the worst to deal with. People changed, perhaps even more than the world around them. It is not easy to change the habits and ways we do things even when it is abruptly recommended that we do so. With all this stress, there is no wonder that a massive 25% increase in stress levels globally.
We have learned that the stress wasn’t temporary. It was a buildup to more stressful today. Whether our work is at home, in the office, or a combination, stress has created an impact that doesn’t seem to be going away. Some organizations have effectively ensured their employees access to mental wellness benefits and needs. Two examples of this are the well-known companies of Microsoft and Pinterest. Still, the sound examples are far from the number of companies. This is where we need to step up and do more.
Let’s be blunt: it isn’t going to be easy to do the hard work it takes from an organizational standpoint to ensure a stronger focus on mental health and the crisis it has become. Yet, it is possible to do this if we work to understand better the problem, its cost, and the solutions. It’s a team effort that requires all hands on deck to solve. When that happens, organization by organization, favorable results will start to put out the five-alarm mental wellness crisis and replace it with greater understanding, compassion, and effective treatment geared toward mental wellness.
A Startling Trend
This mental health crisis we see unfolding impacts people with varying problems. It has been common to use the “this too shall pass” approach to navigate tumultuous times. We must move beyond this philosophical discussion of mental health and into what we can control: the care organizations offer their employees and the support they can offer. Hence, employees begin using their mental wellness benefits.
What we know about the challenges people face today is that 4.58% of adults report having severe thoughts of suicide, an increase of 664,000 people from the previous year. Plus, over half of adults with mental illness receive no treatment. This totals approximately 27 million adults in the US alone. These struggling people are our coworkers, friends, and neighbors we pass by as we take a walk.
People are dealing with anxieties and stress about a variety of things. The most common ones noted include:
- Money (64%)
- Work (60%)
- The economy (49%)
- Family responsibilities (47%)
- Personal health problems (46%)
These types of stress are constantly in a person’s mind. They won’t go away because they cannot rely on their own. They need to take action. This can wear down the one suffering the problem, which is why mental wellness benefits are so significant. You need to get people to the professionals and resources they need. There is no way to manage the problem and no higher calling for all of us than to fight to resolve the problem.
There is increasing demand for organizations to step up and ensure that their “human resources” receive access to mental health services with fewer obstacles. More empathy is not going away.
When a person needs help, it is hard enough. Add real-world challenges, which can feel like the icing on their pain. Some of the most pressing questions that come to mind when someone is trying to determine if they will be able to seek help are:
· Is there insurance coverage to aid in getting therapy or counseling?
· What portion must be paid out of pocket? Is that dollar amount affordable?
· Will the employer be supportive and empathetic, remembering that people are involved, or be only bottom-line focused?
These questions are real concerns in employees’ minds and, therefore, are required to be in an organization’s mind, too…if they want good retention and results from their workforce. Because people can leave and will if they don’t feel supported, which doesn’t help the organization or their stress, now that we know the problem, it’s time for solutions!
We All Have a Part to Play in the Solution
Whether in HR and benefits, a manager, or a peer, we have a role to play in ensuring that mental health is a known priority for every person. In a life where none of us like to hear what we “must do,” this is as close as it gets to that, if for no other reason than mental wellness impacts every person.
For work peers, the most significant role they can play is to aid in removing the stigma of a person discussing mental health. They should advocate for every coworker to be their best, encouraging people to seek help. There is no shame in that. It is now widely considered a strength when someone admits that talking to a person would be beneficial6. This stigma being removed is an integral part of finding help.
Individuals who work in management may often feel they need to be an expert in mental health if they are going to discuss it. Nothing is further from the truth. When employees confide in their manager about their struggles with burnout, stress, or other factors that impact their well-being and work, the manager is best served by demonstrating empathy, confidentiality, and guidance. Could you take proactive steps to address this problem? In that case, the manager could call a meeting to discuss stress, burnout, and mental wellness, relaying resources to a group while ensuring they don’t point out any individuals they suspect may be struggling. When a person in need knows they have support from management, it can go further toward healing than many of us may realize.
Lastly, those in an organization in charge of benefits have the most significant role. Consider this: Only 41% of employees believe their employer supports their mental health. Meanwhile, 55% say they haven’t used any mental health benefits offered by their employer, and 13% believe their employer doesn’t offer any mental health benefits. When an organization has this problem, it has significant challenges that come along with it. Practically speaking, two truths exist in this scenario:
1. A company pays a certain amount of money to offer benefits. Letting employees understand what they are and how to access them is essential.
2. Employees cannot perform optimally when they think their organization doesn’t offer mental health benefits or use the ones they have.
Organizations succeed when they ensure their employees have the tools to succeed in their work. For example, if an employee’s computer breaks down, it would be paramount to replace it as quickly as possible so they could get back to work. Knowing this, it certainly makes sense that when employees feel broken, their employer would be eager to aid them in finding the best ways to mend themselves.
Doing all these things is not an all-or-nothing approach. Some steps can be taken to start the process and lead to mental wellness.
The sooner an employee acknowledges they are in a mental wellness crisis, the more quickly everyone can step into action. Remembering that mental health challenges can be very personal and are typically not something people gravitate toward discussing, letting others know about challenges is the best way to begin the critical conversation.
One of the most effective solutions to offer a struggling individual immediate is to give them access to online therapy or even a friendly ear to discuss their concerns. In particular, research has found that online therapy is beneficial because it offers two key components:
1. Online, on-demand therapy is more affordable than some alternatives.
2. Online, on-demand options are more easily accessible for people, which means less worrying about getting mental health care.
Additionally, online therapy has the benefits of flexibility. When this option is a part of an organization’s benefits package, people can take advantage of scheduling a live chat or video session if desired. Still, more often, options exist where a person can message their therapist right when they feel the need to talk with someone. This certainly beats waiting a few weeks to share a concern or receive some insights. However, this online option will never replace scheduled therapy, of course, but sometimes you need to get access when the problem arises. This act is powerful and can stop a person from turning a “molehill into a mountain.”
With step one, we are opening up the door to the possibilities of a more balanced person, which leads to the second step, which is a face-to-face connection with another person.
Some research has suggested that people receive as much benefit from online therapy as they do from face-to-face sessions. Every person is different, so this may be true. Keep in mind, as an organization that is tending to the wellness of the employees, it has become essential to offer stellar mental health benefits and ones that allow for an in-person option. Nothing can replace talking to someone sitting across from you or next to you about what’s happening. This is also at the heart of one of the people’s most significant challenges in our digital world—a sense of loneliness and a lack of human connection.
Some experts have even advised against online therapy for specific mental health concerns. Examples of these include:
· Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
· Major depression
· Severe anxiety
Being in-person allows for someone to maximize the benefits of their therapy. At minimal, it allows the impacted individual to lay out their concerns on the table and receive insights from the therapist about the recommended pathway to recovery. This is where everything circles back to the organization and its role.
The roles an organization plays in providing therapy are valuable and immensely important. Aside from offering the benefits for an employee to take care of, they provide the necessary structure. This includes:
· Work time off for appointments
· Other tools to promote wellness, such as apps, fitness benefits, and mental wellness days
· Ensuring that all employees understand the broad scope and importance of mental wellness
· Not overworking employees, which is likely to lead to burnout
So much can be done, and more so, it needs to be done. There is no going back to the old way of approaching benefits and mental health.
The topic of mental wellness, especially in the workplace, was once considered taboo, and now organizations can be pioneers in destigmatizing it. Remember—nobody enjoys having these struggles, and everyone should care that they exist.
By offering the best benefits to employees to guide us into this new post-pandemic era, organizations can take a stand for good business. Trained management and empathetic employees also help. But more than anything, giving every person in need of help the dignity to receive it will make our world a more important place for everybody to work in, thrive in, and experience their best lives. This is how we can start to put out this five-alarm fire and turn the crisis into care.