Roughly two years of a pandemic have forced mental health needs front and center for many employers.
Faced with new or different challenges, many employees are more aware of their own mental health needs, and as they spoke up, employers, too, have developed a stronger awareness of the importance of addressing those needs, said Patty Starr, president and CEO of Health Action Council (HAC), a nonprofit coalition representing midsize to large employers that aims to enhance human and economic health.
Finding a better way to support employee mental health has been top of mind for many employers, including HAC members, prompting the council to make this one of the key topics of this year's IN-VALUE-ABLE Conference Series & Expo. The conference included virtual events in late January and early February, with two more planned for Feb. 24 and March 10.
The percentage of U.S. employees who reported symptoms of depression or anxiety during the pandemic has increased fourfold, according to the Integrated Benefits Institute.
"I think it was already an epidemic before, but that's really come to the surface now that mental health is a huge epidemic, and that people really aren't getting the care that they need for it," said Juliette McClendon, a speaker at the conference and director of medical affairs at Big Health, a Boston-based digital therapeutics company focused on sleep and mental health.
McClendon said she has "absolutely" seen changes in the way employers operate and approach mental health support in the past two years through the pandemic and following the racial justice movement in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
"I think both of those events really brought very different topics of conversation to the surface and really reorganized many employers' priorities," she said. "Of course there were a lot of employers for whom mental health was a priority prior to the pandemic, but I think we've seen a lot more employers put mental health at the top of their list of priorities."