Mental health issues among workers are spiking due to COVID-19. Here's how employers can step in

A woman working remotely with her laptop on her lap
A new survey highlights just how severe some of the mental health impacts of COVID-19 are on workers. (asiandelight/Getty Images)

COVID-19 is having a massive impact on employees’ mental health, according to a new report. 

Lyra Health and the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions polled more than 1,200 workers who are covered in employer-based plans and found that 83% are experiencing mental health problems, which are caused by a mix of the pandemic and ongoing racial justice issues. 

“This study confirmed, I think, what a lot of us suspected, which is that the life disrupting events of the past six months, whether that’s COVID-19, racial injustice, the financial turmoil that many people are finding themselves in have all taken a toll on mental health,” Joe Grasso, Ph.D., clinical director of partnerships at Lyra Health, told Fierce Healthcare. 

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At the same time, 40% said they don’t believe their employer cares about their mental health, exposing a major opportunity for employers to better support their workers, according to the report. 

RELATED: Virtual behavioral health could expand access to care for 53M Americans, report finds 

Employees who believe their employer does not support their mental health are nearly two times as likely to consider leaving for another job, according to the survey. Cost and access also remain major barriers, with 60% saying they paid out-of-pocket for mental health services. 

The survey also suggests a large increase in people facing mental health crises or emotion instability. About 11% of those surveyed said they had thoughts about harming themselves or others. Grasso said data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on self-harm suggest about 4% of people face such thoughts. 

Lyra’s providers noted similar findings, with 12% of new registrants on the platform in the early days of COVID-19 reporting thoughts of self-harm or suicide, an increase of 33% from the beginning of the year. 

“The intense severity, I think, for a subset of folks is especially concerning to me,” Grasso said. 

RELATED: Teladoc exec—Why COVID-19 is proving a 'great equalizer' for mental health care 

As the data suggesting that COVID-19 is leading to potentially severe mental health challenges for many people continue to grow, employers are stepping up to offer more support for their workers. 

Grasso said that starts with recognizing employees’ stressors don’t go away simply because they logged into work or came into the office. 

“I think what a lot of employers are realizing is the need to create a culture where it’s okay and even encouraged to access mental health services,” he said, “and that there’s a shift towards embracing discussion of mental health at work.” 

Employers are also hearing the demands of the current racial justice movement, and Grasso said that they’re harnessing benefits providers like Lyra to hold listening sessions facilitated by mental health providers that allow Black employees to open up more about their experiences in the workplace. 

In addition, employers are acknowledging that these mental health challenges aren’t going to go away overnight once the pandemic is tamped down. 

“We’re consistently hearing from employers that this is a long-term issue, even after a vaccine,” Grasso said. 

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