Morneau Shepell, a leading provider of total wellbeing, mental health and digital mental health services, today released its monthly Mental Health Index™ report, making September the sixth consecutive month of negative mental health scores. The Mental Health Index™ for September is -6.3, which measures a decline in mental health from the pre-2020 benchmark of 75, as well as a decline from -5.6 in August and -5.1 in July. Compared to the previous month, the biggest decline of any sub-score is in work productivity with a decline of 2.5 points, followed by worsening depression and isolation.
The significant decline in U.S. employees’ productivity aligns with other data in the latest Index that shows respondents struggling with motivation issues. Three out of ten (30 percent) employees indicate that they find it more difficult to concentrate on work than before the pandemic, 37 percent feel more mentally and/or physically exhausted at the end of the work day, and 32 percent say they find it more difficult to feel motivated to do work than before the outbreak six months ago.
Throughout the United States, all regions experienced continuing declines in mental health scores since July, when the regional scores last illustrated a general improvement. The mental health score in the Western United States, which has been battling wild fires in addition to the pandemic, is -7.0, close to the -8.0 low point seen in April for the country overall. The latest report continues to show that parents, younger individuals, those with lower household incomes, those who identify as female or other, and non-White populations, have lower mental health scores.
The Mental Health Index™ also tracks sub-scores against the benchmark, measuring anxiety (-8.2), optimism (-7.9), depression (-7.9), work productivity (-7.8), isolation (-6.5), general psychological health (2.2) and financial risk (8.2). All sub-score areas experienced declines with the exception of optimism, which rose slightly from -8.5 last month. The most significant negative change was work productivity, which declined the most with a 2.5 point drop.
“The second straight month of decline in the Mental Health Index™ of Americans, suggests that we are in the ‘second wave’ of mental health issues,” said Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer. “It’s important to pay attention to the impact on work productivity. The connection between mental health and work productivity is clear and we need to understand that productivity risk is one of the significant impacts of the pandemic.”
Delaying self care could have long-term effects
While the need to manage general physical health to minimize the virus’ impact continues to be a priority, more than one out of four (27 percent) respondents indicate that the pandemic has made them less likely to participate in health care for physical needs (e.g., annual physicals, regular dental exams, routine blood checks) compared to six months ago. Also, even with the rising mental health needs, nearly one quarter (22 percent) say that they are less willing to partake in mental health care than before the pandemic.
Financial risk also ranked as a top concern from American employees, and while they have been increasing their emergency savings since the start of the pandemic, September marks the first month of a reversal of this trend. A consistent and substantial difference in mental health exists between those with emergency savings (-1.9) when compared to those without (-22.2), with the latter faring significantly worse.
Considerations for employers
One of the constant themes throughout the Mental Health Index™ reports continues to be the strong role that employers play in supporting their employees’ mental health, particularly during times of uncertainty and disruption. Employees who indicate that their employers support mental health well have better mental health scores than those who say that their employers poorly or inconsistently support their mental health needs.
“As the pandemic continues, people are experiencing mental strains that no one anticipated six months ago. The impact of this strain cannot be ignored. We are seeing everything from an increase in suicidal thoughts, reduced motivation at work, to reluctance to seek health care. All of this has long-term implications,” said Paula Allen, senior vice president of research, analytics and innovation. “The good news is that we have seen that the support provided by employers makes a big difference in managing these risks, and employees value that support.”
As organizations focus on managing through the pandemic, managers and leaders should consider taking some of the following actions to better help their employees:
- Talk frequently about mental health – Communicate about mental health often and recognize that the pandemic has increased the level of mental health risk for all people.
- Promote mental health resources – These resources include employee assistance programs, and digital resources such as internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps build the skills necessary for coping with challenging times when anxiety is high.
- Train managers to identify early warning signs – Train or educate managers on the need for increased recognition during difficult times; the need for reasonable flexibility with respect to how work is done; and how to recognize and respond to signs of burnout.
- Invest in employee financial wellbeing – Provide financial wellbeing resources that provide education and encourage emergency savings, given its strong impact on mental health.
- Pay special attention to those most at risk – Focus additional attention on groups that are most at risk, including parents, younger employees, lower income employees, non-White employees and those who identify as female or other.
- Be consistent – Ensure that your organization is consistent in your efforts to support mental health among employees as inconsistent action erodes the benefits you may have realized prior to or early on in the pandemic.