Mental health has been high on the priority list for most employers, especially as of late.

We’ve all seen the rising focus on mental wellbeing occurring over the last decade, but it’s clear that this pandemic has only raised this awareness and brought to light the heightened challenges that employees are facing all across the country.

 

Why the stigma before the pandemic?

According to SHRM.org,  ‘nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness every year.’ Like most wellness or illness journeys, they’re usually private. And until recently, mental health and mindfulness were taboo to openly talk about in the workplace, too. 

Employers are becoming more aware of this. According to Aetna Behavioral Health, prior to shelter-in-place, mental health expenses were skyrocketing at over 10% annually the last five years. But with loneliness and isolation trending due to shelter-in-place, employers are more eager to help their employees through this time and manage the inevitable rising costs and claims for the care of depression, anxiety, and mood disorders.

Employers are taking action and some of the most popular approaches we’ve seen has been to ramp up awareness for employee assistance programs, update communications and resources for employees and implement new vendors that address these issues specifically.

But how did our focus on mental health become so siloed along the way? We all know that EAPs have a history of low utilization. Communication and education does not equal action and results. And sure, a new vendor may bring awareness to the cause, but this approach may not be suitable for everyone or the long-term solution to addressing these concerns and the inevitable repercussions that the isolated home environment will likely bring.

 

Mental wellbeing healing is multidimensional

No two people, situations, experiences or thoughts are the same. And there is no one-size fits all program, approach, or solution… except exercise. It’s nature's first, natural medicine.

Studies have shown that you are able to produce mood-enhancing effects after just five minutes of moderate exercise.

Anxiety and depression medicine don’t even alter your mood that quickly and sometimes they don’t work at all. If and when the treatment does work, it’s not meant to be a long-term solution. Furthermore, exercise is linked to reducing the need for medication or eliminating it altogether. 

Those stats are interesting, but …

With all of this information, why are claims costs skyrocketing? The theory is, depression exists due to a lack of serotonin production in the brain, which can cause a lack of motivation, feeling down, and exhaustion. Interestingly enough, physical activity triggers a release of dopamine and serotonin, which can improve mood.

Results show that one hour a week of yoga/mindfulness is highly effective in reducing stress and anxiety alone, without medicine.

Mental wellbeing needs more than medicine and education, but we live in a society where quick fixes, fad diets, and doctor’s visits are the go-to cure.

 

Educating employers and employees

So where can employers step in to support employees outside of what they’re already doing? How do we continue to educate our employers and help our employees along their mental health and wellbeing journey? How do we provide enough support to resolve and improve their mental health?

Be open-minded to addressing these tough conversations with employees. Ask how they’re doing. Be focused on the whole person, not just the work output. Think outside of the box to solve their problems.

Education is helpful for employers and individuals as a whole, but many people need motivation and support outside of themselves. They need a safe place combined with an action plan to get better. 

The world doesn’t need anymore quick fixes, apps that go underutilized, EAPs that get less than 10% utilization. We need a community to help us build healthy habits and support us, while:

  • Improving mental and physical health
  • Building community and camaraderie

 

Social support and resilience 

Did you know that community and friends in the workplace make employees 7x more engaged and likely to stick with an employer and be happier in general?

Did you know that exercising builds resilience, both mentally and physically? 

With so many health benefits achieved by physical activity, employers need to zoom out, refocus and figure out how they can build a community of support, awareness and health. Focusing on exercise and community addresses most top priorities of employees today. 

This is not a chicken and egg situation, this is a getting back to basics conversation and offering a place where your employees have the permission to exercise and move, the flexibility to pick what works for them, and the community to support them. 

Peerfit believes that “when it comes to investing in the health and wellness of your team, it’s important to remember just that - it’s an investment, not just another expense.”

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