COVID-19 has changed the conversation about mental health in business. Brunswick’s Meaghan Ramsey and Jon Miller challenge companies to consider their “mental health footprint.”
“How are you?” is a question we’ve all been asked thousands of times, and we answer: “fine, thanks.” It’s an exchange that symbolizes the shallow discussions on mental health that take place in the workplace. That is, until COVID-19.
“How are you?” remains a fixture of Zoom calls and work emails, but the question itself, and the answers it now elicits, seem less perfunctory. People are talking to colleagues and clients about how the pandemic has made them feel, the pressures of trying to be a teacher, parent, spouse and employee at the same time; they’re angry about racial injustices; they’re anxious about their health, their finances, or their professional future.
These conversations could be a breakthrough in the discussion of mental health in the workplace. “New conversations are happening all over the company, all over the world,” one client told us. “It could be a real watershed moment: once you’ve had a workplace conversation about mental health, you can’t un-have it.”
We’ve seen a marked increase in businesses focusing on mental health issues during the pandemic. So we’ve taken a closer look at why mental health matters to business, and what leadership on mental health looks like.
Mental Health: A Global Issue that’s Deadly, Costly, and Growing.
Mental disorders affect one in four people worldwide, according to the WHO, with devastating consequences for public health. Severe mental health issues lower life expectancy by up to 25 years, while a person dies from suicide every 40 seconds. Loneliness, which one in three young adults report feeling, is as destructive as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The WHO predicts that as these conditions worsen, mental health problems will be the leading cause of mortality and morbidity by 2030.
The economic costs are similarly staggering. The World Economic Forum estimates that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion annually. Deloitte reports poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion ($55.5 billion) every year, while The American Journal of Psychiatry estimates 1 in 5 US employees will experience a mental health condition each year, causing $193 billion in lost earnings annually—employee mental health costs have risen twice as fast in the US as other medical expenses.
Data on mental health often relies on self-reporting, leading some to question its validity. Key projections are built not only on that self-reported data but also researchers’ assumptions. Neither are air-tight. Still, the big picture and trend lines they paint are hard to argue with: mental health, already so deadly and expensive, is destined to become more so if nothing changes.