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Jun 6, 2022
Supporting the Mental Health of America’s Workforce

According to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50% of people in the United States will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime. Yet less than half of these individuals will seek the treatment they need.

Mental health issues among workers result in more days of lost work than chronic medical conditions and are responsible for lost productivity and lower employee engagement, all of which can impact an organization’s bottom line. Additionally, mental health issues are a key contributor to the “Great Resignation,” with 68% of the millennials and 81% of the GenZers who resigned a job in 2021 reporting that they left to deal with a mental health issue.

The time is now for employers to promote awareness and education to address employee mental health early and enable a happier and healthier workforce that drives the success of the business. That was the key takeaway from a panel of experts who recently came together for a webinar titled, “Mental and Behavioral Well-Being In and Out of the Workplace.” The discussion featured Jason Youngblood, director of the Well-being Center of Excellence at Cigna, who is also a licensed behavioral health clinician, as well as actress and activist Holly Robinson Peete, and was moderated by Eva Borden, president of behavioral health at Evernorth, Cigna Corporation’s health services business, and Mike Triplett, president of the U.S. commercial business at Cigna. 

ICYMI: Watch the Virtual Discussion On-Demand

View the virtual discussion to learn how to address employee mental health and behavioral health concerns early and enable a happier and healthier workforce that drives the success of your business.

Watch replay

Below are some key takeaways from the discussion.

We’ve Made Progress With Mental Health Awareness, But Work Remains

People have become more aware of mental health and the impact it has on their overall health and well-being, Youngblood said. Research found that 72% of workers recognize that how they feel mentally impacts how they perform at work.

“People want their employers to ask them how they feel, and they want them to actually care about how they're doing.”Jason Youngblood, director of the Well-being Center of Excellence at Cigna

But demonstrating understanding and support of mental health issues is difficult for many employers, Youngblood told the nearly 1,500 viewers of the discussion.

Most employers have programs and services in place to support people’s mental health. The problem is, employees don’t know what’s available to them. Employers need to do a better job of driving awareness around their mental health benefits, programs, resources and support.

Caregivers at Higher Risk for Mental Health Issues

Many employees are also caregivers, who spend 20 to 39 hours each week caring for others on top of the work they do for their employers, Evernorth’s Borden said. As a result, they are at higher risk for stress, anxiety and depression.

Peete, who is best known for her role as Judy Hoffs on the Fox TV drama “21 Jump Street,” also spoke about her experience as a caregiver. When she was 19, she began taking care of her father, Matt Robinson, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. She later married Rodney Peete and became a caregiver for their child with autism.

The biggest lesson she has learned from many years of caregiving is “you have to take care of yourself,” Peete said.

"Caregivers must take care of themselves."Holly Robinson Peete, actress and activist

Youngblood added that many caregivers strive to be selfless. “That can actually work against us,” he said. “Because being selfless means that you don't take time to pay attention to your own diet, your own nutrition, staying hydrated, making sure that you're getting enough sleep and making sure that you are socially connected to others.”

Finding time for the self-care he listed is key to helping people protect themselves against the impact of depression and anxiety. Employers should be actively identifying and reaching out to the caregivers in their workforce, he said, reminding them to take care of themselves and to take advantage of mental health benefits and programs the company offers, as well as highlighting whole-family support.

A family dealing with mental health issues needs specific kinds of education, coaching, guidance, and navigation. This creates an opportunity for employers to personalize and target the prevention programming they create to support the mental health of their employees and their families.

Employees Who Care for Other Coworkers Need Support Too

Inside every organization are people whose job it is to care for other employees – directly or indirectly. “These are your HR people, it could be your benefits team, or wellness captains and coaches,” Youngblood said. “Those folks are being approached like never before for care and support. They are consuming a lot of very sensitive, personal information, and a lot of crises. My number one piece of advice is to identify who those people are within your company and make sure you are taking really good care of them.”

Companies must proactively reach out to this subset of employees and motivate them to engage in their own health. They must also provide all of the necessary education and tools they need to support the health and well-being of their colleagues. At Cigna, for example, we offer a mental health first aid certification course through our Behavioral Center of Excellence. This free, one-day class teaches participants how to recognize an individual who is experiencing a mental health crisis or problem and provide support until professional help is available.

Youngblood also suggested that organizations adopt training and programming that teaches resilience in the context of the new world of work, such as strategies for staying connected and building networks.

At Cigna, we have been testing Connection Circles, which are designed to promote overall wellness, reduce loneliness, and increase resiliency in our workforce and their communities. Each Connection Circle is limited to about a dozen participants, who agree to meet for six 40-minute sessions over the course of about three months to learn the importance of making meaningful connections, to learn skills to engage with others on a deeper level, and to gain a better understanding of self-care.

Normalizing Mental Health Care in the Workplace

The only way for employers to normalize mental health care in the workplace is to utilize their benefits and well-being programming to provide mental health education, recognition, response, and training, and by staying focused on the connection between body and mind, Youngblood said.

However, he stressed the importance of remembering there is no one-size-fits-all approach to being relevant to employees. “Just like humans are all different, employers are different too,” he said. For the best results, he said, really dig into who your employees are, what their mental health needs are, and then tailor your programming to fit their needs and their struggles.

ICYMI: Watch the Virtual Discussion On-Demand

View the virtual discussion to learn how to address employee mental health and behavioral health concerns early and enable a happier and healthier workforce that drives the success of your business.

Watch replay