The pandemic—and in particular the Omicron variant— is exacting a staggering toll on American workers’ mental health. At a time when many were hoping that the pandemic was easing, workers’ mental health has surged to levels that are considered a great cause for concern. Experts describe the situation as “distressing” and “troublesome.”Read More »
The impact on American workers mental health was so great during the quarter that the index plunged to an all-time low.
The new index reveals that:
• Depression is up 87% since the fall of 2021 and stands at a number that is 63% higher than was the case before the pandemic. The rise is strongest among men among whom depression rates more than doubled in the three months from September to December 2021.
Depression is more than just feeling blue, the index compilers explain. When feelings of hopelessness and sadness continue and worsen, you might become clinically depressed. Chronic stressful situations can increase the risk that you will develop depression if you cannot cope.
• A frightening one in every four American workers registered positive for a risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The figure is up 54% in the past three months and up an alarming 136% when compared with pre-pandemic levels.
PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by an event that is traumatic, the index compilers explain. People may temporarily have trouble coping, but get through it. PTSD develops when symptoms persist for months and years.The increase in the PTSD risk is the greatest since Total Brain has been tracking the mental health of American workers.
• Men in particular show a strong gain in the risk of addiction, which has risen 80% since September 2021.
Addiction occurs when a person repeats substance use, the compilers of the index explain. The result is that the brain is remapped to seek pleasure through intoxication instead of activities that are healthier. Addiction follows the brain’s remapping.
• Rates of social anxiety disorder in men is up 162% since the start of the pandemic.People who suffer from this condition have a strong fear of being judged in a negative way or rejected in social situations.
• General anxiety disorder among men aged 40 to 59 almost doubled (up 94%) during the quarter.
People with this condition find it becomes difficult for them to control worry or to stop the worry cycle. The result is that they lose sleep, overthink, and agonize more than appears to be warranted for the situation. Stress is a common trigger. If it becomes chronic it results in general anxiety disorder.
• Resilience fell 7% in the quarter. Resilience allows us to bounce back when we face trauma, adversity or tragedy, for example. It drops fast after an event that is emotionally distressing or we go through a period that is especially stressful.
• Stress levels are up 13% since June in people who are aged from 20 to 39.
The compilers of the index define stress as a response to an external stressor that might be a work deadline, the loss of a job, an argument with a loved one, or a major change in one’s life. They add that the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and health is a “substantial stressor” at this time.
When stressors are not resolved, the stress becomes chronic and leads to depression and anxiety. Anxiety and stress can restrict the way in which we retrieve and form memories, the index compilers explain. You might find that you forget where you left your telephone or you find it harder to recall people’s names.
In addition, stress hinders our ability to focus and we make more mistakes. Stress also can negatively affect a person’s ability to plan and finish tasks on time.
Sheer immensity of increase
A decline in the nation’s mental health commonly occurs around holiday time, says Matthew Mund, CEO of Total Brain. Nothing in previous holiday times comes close to the sheer immensity of this increase, however, he adds.
We have seen a highly disturbing rise in mental health concerns since workplace vaccine mandates were imposed, Omicron began to seize the nation, and the holiday season was fully underway, Mund says. Employers should be ready to address trauma among workers, he adds. They should understand the pressures and risks that employees might feel and discussions on how to normalize mental health in the workplace are significant first steps that should be taken.
The index is distributed in partnership with One Mind at Work—a coalition of 90 global employers who have combined to transform approaches to addiction and mental health—the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, and the HR Policy Association and its American Health Policy Institute.
It is disturbing that the fast spread of the Omicron variant has deepened the typical health declines that are seen at holiday times, says Margaret Faso, director of the Health Care Research and Policy at the HR Policy Association, which consists of more than 390 of the largest corporations operating in the United States and around the world.
The uncertainty around COVID policies has added to stress that is being felt in the workplace, she says. In spite of that, however, employers have focused on the well-being and safety of their workers, regardless of federal policy or mandates.
The hope is that the Omicron variant will dissipate, that the anxiety, stress, and depression of workers will decline, and the overall behavioral health will improve for all Americans, Faso adds.
The continual effect of the pandemic on the mental health of today’s workers will need an effort on the part of employers that is sustained, says Daryl Tol, executive Vice President of One Mind at Work. Usually we look for short-term or simple solutions to problems that are complex, he adds. It is clear, however, that it will take work that is ongoing and dedicated to improve mental health programs for employees.