The close of any year is a good time to step back and take stock, but it’s especially valuable as the shockwaves of COVID-19 begin to recede through effective vaccines and promising treatments. Where do we stand today and where are we headed in 2022?
The pandemic clearly imposed an enormous toll on mental health. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at the height of the pandemic in June 2020 nearly 41 percent of Americans reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse. Compared to pre-COVID 2019 levels, reports of anxiety disorders were three times higher and depressive disorders four times higher. Most alarmingly, the number of U.S. adults having serious thoughts of suicide increased by 664,000.
While we’ll be dealing with the consequences of these pandemic-induced challenges for years to come, there are promising signs that more employers and employees are taking steps proactively to create workplaces that prioritize mental health.
According to the October 2021 Calm for Business survey, 97 percent of employees said that companies should be working to improve the mental health of their workers. And 76 percent reported that mental health benefits are critical in evaluating a new job opportunity.
Clearly, robust support for employee mental health is now a business imperative for every organization. This applies at every level, including the C-suite. We’ve had countless leaders across our One Mind at Work members that have openly shared their stories — reducing stigma and creating a more inclusive workplace culture. In fact, one study by Mind Share Partners found that C-suite and other executive-level employees were actually more likely to report at least one mental health symptom compared to other employees.
Beyond increased attention from the C-suite, we see several new and innovative developments that promise to improve workplace mental health and employee wellbeing in 2022 and beyond.
Metrics used for continuous improvement
First, new metrics around mental health have the potential to drive continuous improvement by measuring progress. One Mind at Work is collaborating with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Ethisphere to establish an index that enables organizations to assess and benchmark their mental health programs and improve performance based on science and best practices for mental health in the workplace.
Building a trauma-Informed workplace
Second, organizations are taking steps to build trauma-informed workplaces that are equipped to address the mental health impacts of not only the pandemic, but other sources of trauma. By testing novel solutions and implementing best practices, companies can create more resilient workplaces that better support employee wellbeing.
Recognizing intersectional diversity
Third, organizations are beginning to understand that diversity cuts across many factors that employers must support. Beyond embracing differences in race, ethnicity and gender, organizations need to recognize the neurodiversity of its workforce to provide the support employees need and also unlock the talent advantages of a more mentally and emotionally healthy workforce.
As we close the books on 2021, it’s too early to say we’ve reached a turning point in terms of mental health in the workplace. But there are important signs that more organizations are embracing One Mind at Work’s mission of leading a global movement to improve the mental health status of individuals and families through the workplace.