A third of Americans now show signs of clinical depression or anxiety, according to a Census Bureau survey conducted this year to measure the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on employment, housing, finances, education, and health. Fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen can be overwhelming. Public health actions, such as social distancing, can make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety.
With more people feeling anxious than ever, prescriptions to treat depression and anxiety have increased as well, with companies such as Express Scripts reporting increases as high as 34.1 percent for anti-anxiety medications and 18.6 percent for antidepressants.
While medications are useful tools for treating depression and anxiety, doctors warn about the possibility of long-term addiction and abuse of drugs, as patients can develop a psychological dependence on such medications. Researchers have projected that without intervention, the country is poised to experience a rise in substance abuse.
As an alternative to potentially dangerous antidepressants, doctors advise turning to more evidence-based treatments to address anxiety and depression, including exercising, eating well, and therapy. A strong social support system improves overall mental health and the ability to recover from stressful situations. In fact, research shows that 77 percent of people who have open and honest conversations about their feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress feel better afterward.
Research has demonstrated that employers can implement workplace strategies and services that promote good behavioral health practices, minimize total workplace costs, and provide early and efficient referrals for treatment.
There are several best practices and interventions to address mental health in the workplace, including:
- Offering workplace wellness programs to identify those at risk to provide support and treatment
- Providing free or subsidized lifestyle coaching, including behavioral health services
- Offering mental health counseling telehealth services through benefits
- Implementing an Employee Assistance Program
- Engaging in suicide prevention awareness campaigns that happen throughout the year
- Having an available virtual library of specific trainings geared towards work-from-home employees focused on work-life balance and promoting engagement
- Promote information about the risks of self-medicating with alcohol or benzodiazepines during high-stress times
- Ensure all wellness activities and programming are culturally inclusive and support a diverse workforce equally
Now more than ever, it is important to promote breaking cycles that do not serve us and address mental health concerns in the workforce. By addressing your members’ mental health today, you can prepare them for whatever situation arises, whether it be a pandemic or individual mental health crisis.