Employers concerned about long-term mental health issues post-COVID: survey

Employers view long-term mental health as the key healthcare issue coming out of COVID-19, according to a new survey.

Nearly half (44%) of employers surveyed by the Business Group on Health said they have seen this trend in their workforces, and another 44% expect to see worsening mental health in the future. Most (85%) said they anticipate enhanced mental health benefits launched under the pandemic to continue.

Mental health conditions also ranked sixth on the survey's list of conditions driving healthcare costs, with 17% of those surveyed saying it was a major driver. This is a marked increase from 9% in 2020 and 14% in 2021.

Brenna Shebel, vice president of the Business Group on Health, said during a briefing with reports Tuesday that many employers are tackling mental health challenges "at all different angles."

For one, they're investing in training that can help managers identify when employees may be struggling with their mental health, Shebel said. In addition, they're exploring navigation programs that can help connect patients with mental health services that they may benefit from.

There was a slight decline in 2022 in the number of employers conducting anti-stigma efforts as part of their mental health programs, but it's still a priority for many. Shebel said that the slightly lower emphasis on these programs may reflect that changes are being successfully made.

She added that about half of employers said they expect to expand mental health networks for 2023.

Employers also expect the lingering effects of COVID to be felt in other ways, the survey showed. Forty-three percent said they have already seen an increase in medical services due to delayed care, and 39% said they expect to feel the impacts of that in the near future.

The surveyed employers also said they expect to keep a number of pandemic programs in place beyond enhanced mental health and well-being programs. Ninety-four percent said they will continue to provide expanded virtual care and telehealth offerings, including for mental health, and 53% said they will offer programs that continue to support workers remotely.

"Knowing that these impacts are happening now and are expected to continue, employers are keeping many pandemic-related health and well-being offerings in place for the foreseeable future," the analysts wrote in the report.