Skip to main content

 There is a mental health crisis in America’s workplace and employers need to step it up.  

According to a report from Catapult Health, a Dallas-based digital health company, COVID-19 wasn’t the spark that caused this mental health crisis, but it has forced many employers to confront the problem. Catapult studied more than 400,000 patients across 413 employers during a four-year period looking at depression levels among different race and ethnicity groups.  

“While depression did increase for those at the worksite during COVID, it was there long before. This has just accentuated the problem,” says David Michel, CEO of Catapult Health. The crisis has been especially prevalent among young people. “Younger people are way more likely to consider suicide than older individuals. If you’re in the 20-30 range, those are the individuals that are struggling the most and having the most suicidal ideation.” 

For some groups depression and suicidal ideation actually decreased over the past year, Michel says. However, he notes that Catapult looked at employed individuals and found a small increase among of suicidal ideation and depression but if they included people who became unemployed during the pandemic it would be a more dramatic increase. A survey from Kaiser Family Foundation, in fact, revealed a much more severe increase of anxiety and depression from 2019 to 2021 when including the unemployed.  

Regardless, the problem is entrenched for many subsets of populations. Catapult’s data reveals that Millennials are experiencing depression at a rate 250 percent higher than their Baby Boomer counterparts, and overall, younger employees were most likely to consider suicide, accounting for 32 percent of those with suicidal thoughts but only 12 percent of the study population. Females were more likely to be depressed, as were those who identified as Hispanic or Latino, according to Catapult’s data. 

Another survey, from Headspace for Work, found that employees use of mental health solutions is up from 2020, increasing from 59 percent to 64 percent. It also found that women (58 percent) were more stressed than men (46 percent). Like Catapult’s survey, Kaiser Family Foundation found that Hispanics and Latinos, as well as non-Hispanic Blacks, and non-Hispanics were more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorder during COVID.  

Employer response sparks division  

Across the board, there is a wide gap between how employers say they are responding to these mental health challenges and how employees say the employers are responding. According to the Headspace for Work survey, fewer employees think mental health is a priority by their organizational leadership than they did in 2020. Sixty percent of business owners say well-being is a priority in their organizations, yet only half of their employees agree. 

Another survey of employers and employees from the Hartford found a similar disparity. According to that survey, 80 percent of employers said their company culture has been more accepting of mental health challenges in the past year, but only 59 percent of workers agree. This survey found that while 77 percent of employers said leadership at their company encourages conversations about mental health, only 56 percent of workers agree. A February 2021 survey from Mental Health America, Mind the Workplace, found that more than 56 percent of employees do not think their employers provide safe and welcoming environment for employees who live with mental illnesses.