Gen X workers experiencing worrisome mental health declines

Although COVID-19 vaccines are becoming more widely available and giving many employees hope for light at the end of the tunnel in regard to the pandemic, mental health relief isn’t widespread.

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According to the latest results from Total Brain’s Mental Health Index, employees in the sandwich generation–those ages 40-59 who are typically tending to children and aging parents amid a pandemic–have experienced worrisome declines in mental health over the last few months. The risk of PTSD has increased 51% since January, and planning, which impacts decisiveness, was down 10% in March 2021. Further, the risk of general anxiety is 86% higher than before the pandemic. Findings also reveal that these employees have increased feelings of panic (9%) and fear (12%) when compared to before COVID-19.

“The latest numbers demonstrate the continued strain on the mental health of America’s workforce,” Total Brain CEO Louis Gagnon said last week during a webinar discussing the results.

Total Brain’s Mental Health Index, in partnership with the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, One Mind at Work and the HR Policy Association and its American Health Policy Institute, is based on 500 anonymized assessments randomly selected among thousands of Total Brain assessments taken each week. The index has been tracking employees’ mental health over the past year and has repeatedly found ebbs and flows in how workers are feeling, often corresponding with the outlook on the pandemic.

To find out more about how COVID-19 has changed employee mental health–and how employers can help–don’t miss HRE’s virtual (and free!) Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, held May 11-13. Register here.

“We see this model play out in real life–we see bumps in mental health need alongside the impacts of the pandemic, both from an infection perspective as well as the related impacts such as quarantining or social isolation and other issues like economic instability,” said Katy Schneider Riddick, director of strategy and engagement at One Mind at Work. “We see the pandemic as a direct driver of mental health concerns.”

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The index results come as other data has pointed to the stress facing caregivers and parents. Those challenges have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which many daycares, schools and eldercare facilities closed, leaving many employees juggling homeschooling or taking care of an elderly relative while working from home. As a result, many female workers in particular have already exited the workforce, with many more considering doing so.

From the employer space, many organizations continue to do a lot to support their employees, said Colleen McHugh, executive vice president of the American Health Policy Institute and strategic adviser for HR Policy Association–from various EAP strategies and mental health solutions to training an overall focus on wellness and flexibility.

“They are supporting more flexibility, knowing that they need to meet employees where they are as they are juggling life more than they ever have,” McHugh said.

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

Still, given the concerns many employees are facing, employers must continue to shore up their efforts, Riddick said. “[They should] continue to refine their approach so they can provide meaningful mental health services and programs for the diversity of their employee population.”

Gagnon emphasized the magnitude of the mental health epidemic for employers.

“We did have a crisis before; we still have a crisis now,” he said. “More than half of our employees are not at their best, and that is the drama.”

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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.