Amazon takes big step in improving workers’ mental health

Amazon is adding a mental health benefit for all its U.S. employees, the retail giant said this week, providing free counseling, 24-hour crisis support lines, a mental health app and more as stress among its workers soars during COVID-19.

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The benefit, called Resources for Living, is available for all 950,000 U.S. Amazon employees, as well as their families, and provides them a “single place to start for personalized, convenient, and confidential support for mental health and daily life assistance,” Amazon says. The benefit offers in-person, phone, video and text methods for counseling sessions, covering three free counseling sessions per person, per topic.

Beth Galetti of Amazon

“Easy and affordable access to mental healthcare has become increasingly important as we all continue to navigate different everyday challenges,” says Beth Galetti, Amazon senior vice president of people experience and technology. “Providing access to–and awareness around–mental healthcare is a critical responsibility for employers. This new offering will help us remove barriers and unnecessary stigma around getting help, to ensure our employees and their families feel safe and supported.”

The announcement comes as mental health numbers across the country remain high a year into the pandemic. Although the availability of COVID-19 vaccines is easing some concerns and resulting in declining rates of infections, rates of employee anxiety and depression are still high compared to pre-pandemic levels, and rates of burnout and stress are soaring. More than 26 million adults went untreated for mental health concerns in the United States in 2020, according to the nonprofit Mental Health America.

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A number of employers have added benefits to help workers over the past year, but the move from Amazon–as one of the largest employers in the U.S.–is particularly significant.

Related: Burnout is soaring during COVID-19: How can employers help?

“It is critically important that employers like Amazon evaluate and expand their programs and put a more significant focus on the mental health and mental wellbeing of their employees, especially as we continue to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic and begin to re-enter the workplace,” says Danie Gillison Jr., CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Employers bear a responsibility to ensure access to and provide adequate mental health services to their employees. It is good for their workers and it is good for business.”

Podcast: COVID-19’s impact on workplace mental health

Experts say employers must remain committed to providing mental health help, as issues were already present before the pandemic and will continue long after it.

“We all know mental health has been an issue; the pandemic just completely ripped the Band-Aid off and made this front and center for employers,” Colleen McHugh, executive vice president of the American Health Policy Institute, said earlier this month at HRE’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. Employers need to continue their efforts to provide the right help, benefits and dialogue, she said. “We need to be real and make sure we’re putting [employees’] health first and talk about it.”

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.