COVID-19

Employee Assistance Programs could get more workers mental health care

Meghan McCarty Carino Oct 9, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
HTML EMBED:
COPY
Bymuratdeniz/Getty Images
COVID-19

Employee Assistance Programs could get more workers mental health care

Meghan McCarty Carino Oct 9, 2020
Bymuratdeniz/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

The pandemic has brought unprecedented health hazards, financial insecurity and isolation that is causing a mental health crisis. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of Americans over the summer found a significant increase in symptoms of anxiety and depression, substance abuse and suicidal thinking. Most companies offer workers free mental health services through an Employee Assistance Program. While use of these programs has historically been very low, there’s evidence of increased interest in the services during the pandemic.

About six years ago, when Joseph Kosowski was working in customer support for a tech company, he started having panic attacks — though he didn’t know that’s what they were. He went to urgent care where they told him he was essentially fine. But he didn’t feel fine, so he stopped going to work.

“And I got an email from my HR person, saying, ‘You know, we noticed you missed a few days of work in a row and here are some resources in case you need anything,'” he said.

Kosowski called his company’s Employee Assistance Program, and was quickly referred to a therapist for several free sessions where he was diagnosed with anxiety.

“And, boy, that was sure a lifeline that they threw me,” he said.

About 60% of full-time workers are eligible for this type of benefit according to federal data. But typically only about 10% of them actually use the services.

The pandemic is presenting new obstacles to accessing care for many workers, like an anonymous employee for a national nonprofit who didn’t want to use her real name for the same reason she doesn’t want to use her Employee Assistance Plan.

“I just don’t want to open the opportunity to be seen as not able to deal with things,” she said, referring to significant job cuts at her company that have made her feel vulnerable.

Lisa Frydenlund with the Society for Human Resources Management said like with any therapy, what’s talked about in a session is confidential. She encourages managers to normalize issues of mental health.

“There’s been such a stigma,” she said. “But being able to talk about it and to acknowledge it is so important.”

That is increasingly happening, she said, because so much of the trauma of the pandemic has been shared.

An SHRM survey in June found a third of companies had experienced a significant increase in requests for information about Employee Assistance Programs during the pandemic.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out recently from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

Read More

Collapse

As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.

Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.

Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.