The COVID-19 pandemic unleashed a devastating effect on people’s mental health and well-being. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 40% of adults in the United States struggled with mental health or substance abuse during those first months of the COVID spread.
Add to that the fact that almost half of Americans don’t seek professional help for mental disorders, and it’s easy to see that mental health and well-being has become a crisis in and of itself during the pandemic. At Cigna, we believe that employers play an important role in fostering healthy workforces – both from the standpoint of physical health and mental health and well-being. We are committed to the mental health and well-being of our employees and believe this focus is a prescription for business and economic prosperity as well.
In the exclusive interview below, a Cigna employee, who we will call Nicole T., shares her story of overcoming an anxiety disorder, and how Cigna was there to help.
There’s a stigma around mental health and it is truly courageous of you to seek help. Tell us about what brought you to that decision.
On May 22, 2018, my 34th birthday, I made a promise to myself − that I'd do whatever it took to not feel the same way on my next birthday. I felt scared, restless, and defeated. I couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, and was very short tempered. My anxiety was out of control and I didn't feel like me.
What did you do?
I took the first step and scheduled a visit with my primary care doctor. She and her staff listened and offered suggestions, unconditional support, and hugs. I began taking medication, signed up for health coaching, and started therapy through Cigna’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
All of this made a big difference. However, there were still setbacks. In February of 2019, I found myself in the emergency room with a panic attack. The pressure I was putting on myself had suffocated me. But I didn’t give up. I continued working with my doctor and adjusted my medication. I also went on short-term disability, which helped me prioritize my mental health and effectively collaborate with my providers for a positive health outcome. I was able to return to work and was back to being my family’s biggest fan.
That’s amazing. COVID-19, of course, has been credited with an uptick in mental health challenges. What was it like for you?
The year 2020 was another test for my mental health − a pandemic, volatile political climate, home schooling three young children, and the unexpected loss of my dad. It was the perfect storm. But I was stronger and wiser. I went back to therapy, extremely grateful for the extended EAP sessions we were offered. I reached out to friends and co-workers for support, and I leveraged the tools and resources I learned.
What made you want to share your story?
I share my story because I want others to know they’re not alone and that there are so many wonderful resources and people to help you. I’ve actually joined the Mental Health First Aid course at Cigna, which is a certification course that teaches participants how to recognize and support an individual who is experiencing a mental health crisis. I want to make sure I can continue to support my friends, colleagues, and community.
What’s going to be key to improving mental health and well-being in the United States, in your opinion?
We need to normalize asking for help. I'm not ashamed of having an anxiety disorder. It doesn't define me. I'm stronger, I'm braver, and I'm a better version of me.
Mental and Behavioral Health Resources
Mental health problems such as depression or anxiety disorders can make it harder to think clearly, manage how you feel, and work with other people.