Report: 40% of U.S. adults struggling with mental health or substance use

CDC data reveals a jarring wakeup call for employers. Here’s how wellness pros can—and should—respond.

The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on health and well-being around the world.

The mental health toll, in particular, is astounding. According to the CDC, 40% of U.S. adults are struggling with at least one serious mental health issue amid ongoing COVID-19 challenges. Of the CDC’s 5,412 respondents, about 30% reported suffering from anxiety or depression and 26% are dealing with trauma or a stress-related disorder.

Perhaps most alarming is what researchers discovered on the topic of suicidal thoughts. It might seem uncomfortable, taboo or perhaps even inappropriate to discuss suicide awareness with employees, but with September being National Suicide Prevention Month, it’s an opportune time to broach this difficult subject.

The CDC writes, “The percentage of respondents who reported having seriously considered suicide in the 30 days before completing the survey (11%) was significantly higher among respondents aged 18–24 years (26%), minority racial/ethnic groups (Hispanic respondents [19%], non-Hispanic black [black] respondents [15%]), self-reported unpaid caregivers for adults (31%), and essential workers (22%).”

(Image via CDC)

How to respond

What role can wellness and HR pros play in this monumental mental health battle?

Paula Allen, Morneau Shepell’s senior VP of research, analytics and innovation, offers a stark reminder that employee mental health is a top-tier, business-survival issue that company leaders should be addressing. If your leaders are not taking this crisis as seriously as they should, wellness pros should push to challenge stigmas, step up worker recognition, and prioritize genuine care for those who are hurting. She says:

“It has never been clearer that employers’ support for mental health and well-being is essential for business productivity. Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Index shows that since the pandemic, the decline in the mental health of employed people has been unprecedented, and we have seen a corresponding decline in the ability to focus and be productive given the impact of emotions.”

There is hope, however, and there are simple steps to help ameliorate staffers’ anxiety amid ongoing COVID-19 distress.

Allen continues, “Despite this, the index also shows that employees who have employers that they see as supporting their mental health, do much better than the population overall.” Allen says employers can meaningfully support employees’ mental well-being by:

  • Openly communicating about mental health issues—and challenging negative stigmas.
  • Promoting available resources, such as employee assistance programs or online support groups.
  • Supporting workers with empathy, understanding, flexibility and tangible support.
  • Prioritizing personalized communication, and consistently providing public praise and private recognition.
  • Training managers on how to encourage, uplift and support workers—and how to spot signs of risk.

If you or someone you know is experiencing mental distress or suicidal thoughts, please seek help today.


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