What the pandemic taught companies about mental health support
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The pandemic has taken an emotional and psychological toll on workers. With that in mind, many organizations are investing in mental health and wellness programs to help their employees.
But as Marketplace’s senior economics contributor Chris Farrell explains, when it comes to mental health care, there’s still a ways to go. “These program really do make a difference. I mean, they include things like mental health hotlines, remote access to therapists, and even improv workshops. You know, that said, these programs are far from adequate,” said Farrell in an interview with Marketplace’s David Brancaccio.
The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
David Brancaccio: Now an increasing number of companies and organizations have been taking employee mental health concerns more seriously. Especially since the pandemic started, what is it, three years ago.
Chris Farrell: Yes and as you say, you know, employers are aware of these multiple surveys, you know, that show that so many workers are dealing with stress and burnout. For example, LinkedIn’s Top Companies surveys show that large companies really started embracing mental health and wellbeing programs in 2020. And that was during the height of the pandemic. But subsequent surveys report that providing mental health benefits continues to be a priority, even as the worst of the pandemic is behind us, or at least hopefully.
Brancaccio: And for employees who are covered, it does make a difference?
Farrell: These program really do make a difference. I mean, they include things like mental health hotlines, remote access to therapists, and even improv workshops. You know, that said, these programs are far from adequate. You know, for one thing, you have to work for an employer that offers these benefits and for another, you’re dependent on the programs [that] management decides are worth paying for. And millions and millions of employees work at companies that don’t offer mental health and wellness benefits.
Brancaccio: All right. And then there’s the common criticism that programs like these are too costly when measured the way that the finance office that a company would tend to break it down.
Farrell: Yes. So before the pandemic, mental, physical health, it wasn’t a major theme in discussions about economic growth, dynamic economic growth. And as you point out, you know, most of the concerns revolved around reining in health costs, you know, including mental health. Yet the real message in the pandemic, is that you can’t have a healthy economy without a healthy population. And there’s a report from the consulting firm McKinsey, and it notes that economic historians estimate improved health accounts for about one-third of the overall economy per capita growth in the developed economies over the past century. So investing in economy wide benefits to promote better health, including mental health, you know, it builds economic resilience.
Brancaccio: And we actually have information on how health improvements can translate to higher rates of economic growth.
Farrell: That’s right. I mean, there’s several channels. Just mention a few, the number of people dying prematurely will fall, so the working age population will increase. Fewer workers will retire early because of bad health and they’ll work longer. And most importantly, workers are less distracted by coping with their own mental and physical health issues or the challenges their loved ones are dealing with – that’s good for workers, their families and the economy.
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