- The National Safety Council (NSC) urged employers June 9 to prioritize worker mental health as workplaces return to traditional operations. Specifically, the organization forecasted "an increase in substance misuse," the early signs and symptoms of which employers are uniquely positioned to observe.
- The pandemic has heightened the risk of mental health distress by destabilizing workers' finances, jobs and child care arrangements, NSC said. Furthermore, the social isolation necessitated by COVID-19 can lead to substance use disorders, with those who previously experienced such disorders "even more vulnerable due to decreased accessibility to treatment, recovery supports and harm reduction services."
- NSC advised employers to create a culture of "mental health safety." Specific recommendations included providing support and information on social isolation and anxiety; recognizing the toll of stress and distraction on worker safety; and supervisor training on mental health issues.
NSC is not the first organization to highlight how the coronavirus crisis can impact worker mental health. A poll from Axios and market research firm Ipsos found that 35% of its survey respondents reported worsening mental health. Similarly, Kaiser Family Foundation Health poll results reported that 4 in 10 adults said worry and stress related to COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health.
Even as states and localities issued shut-down orders in the spring, sources told HR Dive it wasn't too late for employers to develop and implement mental health support strategies. "Right now if you're asking, what can employers do, well, the time for preparedness is gone," William Kassler, chief medical officer of government health and human services at IBM Watson Health, previously told HR Dive. "They can only respond."
Many employers have turned to benefits to offer workers such support. Target provided team members with free online access to apps designed to reduce worry and ease sleep. Postmates offered workers a resource portal that included 24/7 access to mental and physical telehealth services. And Starbucks joined forces with Lyra to give workers free therapy sessions.
The pandemic may have renewed employers' focus on mental health, but the topic predates COVID-19. Business Group on Health survey results from July 2019 reported workers asking for employers' help with financial well-being and mental health.