Letters: Employers can help address the COVID-19 mental health crisis


Medical experts agree the COVID-19 pandemic is not going away anytime soon, and as the pandemic continues, so will significant mental stress.

According to a survey by the American Psychological Association released on May 12, 46% of parents with children under 18 rated their average stress level related to the pandemic as 8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale. According to a Washington Post article May 26, a third of Americans are showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression. These statistics were released last week in a tranche of data from the Census Bureau, and they provide an alarming call to action. More people are suffering with mental health issues since the pandemic, and they need help.

Data from health-research firm IQVIA indicates prescriptions for anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications are up. Alcohol and cannabis sales have also increased and so have calls to crisis hotlines.

But even as the country faces its largest mental and behavioral health crisis, the services available to employees may not be on their radar with working from home, caregiving and other social-distancing requirements. But employers can help improve that awareness.

In uncertain times like these, support from the top can be especially important in helping employees deal with the stress and anxiety of change. Senior leaders should acknowledge the times we are in and remind employees about available mental health resources.

Many companies have already revised and/or created new policies for time off related to the pandemic, such as expanded sick leave and PTO. They have also loosened some protocols around performance reviews and bonuses. Companies should periodically review and, if necessary, revise policies to encourage work-life balance.

Employers of all sizes have access to an employee assistance program. Yet their utilization is very low. Documented studies suggest employer-sponsored EAPs can reduce company disability, medical, pharmacy and workers’ compensation costs.

Companies need to continue to communicate about the value of EAPs and ensure their use is confidential and encouraged.

Helping employees address mental health issues is a challenge in the best of times. With a pandemic and economic recession, it’s more necessary than ever that employers step up communication about mental health.

Terri L. Rhodes
Disability Management Employer Coalition

Merrill Goozner’s recent editorial grabbed my attention. He concluded that we need to design “a seamless system where everyone is covered, and people never fall through the cracks.”

This makes a lot of sense, especially when so many of our patients–not to mention our clinics and hospitals–are experiencing sudden hardships during this pandemic and the economic downturn.

I also like his notion of a “guaranteed budget.” This reasonable concept should survive beyond the transient phases of a bailout.

He lost me, however, when he recommended “mechanisms for people to switch automatically between private plans and public programs.” All societies agree on the need for public healthcare/safety-net programs. However, the current pandemic clarifies that market medicine and private plans are not necessary. The private plans continue to make large profits while providers have seen revenue plummet. These plans have failed the test of serving healthcare.

When we stop siphoning money into the for-profit, private structures, a guaranteed public budget will not seem difficult.

Dr. Henry S. Kahn

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