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Anxiety Is Now the Top Mental Health Issue in the Workplace

close-up of a person's fidgeting hands, indicating anxiety

Anxiety has skyrocketed in recent years, now becoming the top mental health issue plaguing workers, new data shows.

An analysis of more than 300,000 U.S. cases from mental health provider ComPsych found that nearly a quarter of people (24 percent) who reached out to ComPsych for mental health assistance in 2023 did so to get help with anxiety.

That makes anxiety the No. 1 presenting issue reported by U.S. workers, topping depression, stress, relationship issues, family issues, addiction and grief, ComPsych said.

[SHRM Toolkit: Creating a Mental-Health-Friendly Workplace]

Anxiety has risen dramatically over the years, ComPsych said. In 2017, for instance, anxiety didn’t rank in the top five presenting issues for Americans.

Richard Chaifetz, founder, CEO and chairman of ComPsych, said the rise of anxiety isn’t particularly surprising considering the series of stressful occurrences over the past few years.

“From the pandemic to ongoing conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine, civil unrest, an unpredictable economy and increasingly polarized political rhetoric surrounding elections, there is a persistent underlying feeling of apprehension and worry,” he said.

[SHRM Research: Work Is Negatively Impacting Employees’ Mental Health]

The data is the latest indicator of the rise of mental health issues afflicting employees and is a call to action for employers. Industry experts, including Chaifetz, contend that organizations would be well served to take a hard look at their mental health benefits and resources—making sure they are robust and well utilized by employees.

We rounded up additional stories from SHRM Online about the state of mental health in the workplace.

Mental Health-Related Absences Up 33% in 2023

ComPsych’s new report on anxiety comes just weeks after it released other analysis finding that mental health-related leaves of absence are surging in the workplace, up 33 percent in 2023 over 2022.

[SHRM resource: Mental Health]

Employee leaves of absence for mental health issues are up a whopping 300 percent from 2017 to 2023. A leave of absence, ComPsych said, can vary from a few days to weeks.

Female employees and younger workers, in particular, are driving the surge. In 2023, 69 percent of mental health-related leaves of absence were taken by women. Of these, 33 percent were taken by Millennial women, followed by Generation X women, who accounted for 30 percent of mental health-related leaves.

(SHRM Online)

State of ‘Permacrisis’ Taking a Hit on Employees’ Mental Health

Other reports have cited an increase in mental health issues in the workplace. MetLife’s annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study, released in March, found that employees are experiencing more mental health struggles and overall negative feelings about their work, underscoring an “urgent need” for employers to take more aggressive measures to help with their benefits offerings.

Employees are now more likely to experience negative feelings at work, including stress (12 percent more likely) and burnout (17 percent more likely), than they were pre-pandemic, according to MetLife. Employees are also 51 percent more likely to feel depressed at work than they were pre-pandemic as they face what the insurer calls a “complex macro environment and permacrisis state”—conditions which have included the pandemic, persistent high inflation, international turmoil and war, and more.

“Against the backdrop of a permacrisis, this year’s study underscores the urgent need for employers to acknowledge the modern challenges that impact their workforce and take steps,” said Todd Katz, executive vice president and head of group benefits at MetLife.

Benefits should be at the center of those steps, he said, because they play “a critical role in demonstrating care and driving employees’ well-being.”

Financial concerns and a persistently high cost of living—which other reports suggest are causing a significant number of employees to live paycheck to paycheck—are the top reasons for poor mental health among employees in 2024, cited by 45 percent.

(SHRM Online)

Why Mental Health Will Be One of the Biggest Topics of 2024

Well over half of employees (57 percent) are experiencing at least moderate levels of burnout, according to a recent report from Aflac. Meanwhile, employees’ confidence in how much their employers care about them has declined significantly: 48 percent said they have confidence in their employers caring about them in 2023—down from 56 percent in 2022 and 59 percent in 2021.

With a looming presidential election—and the polarization and heated conversations that come with it—financial worries, long work hours and other stressors, burnout might be even more of an issue this year, said Aflac CHRO Jeri Hawthorne. 

“Mental and emotional wellness will be a massive topic, especially as we’re going into an election year,” Hawthorne told SHRM Online earlier this year. “People tend to be much more polarized in their views. Maybe five or 10 years ago, people could just disagree on and have different perspectives on certain topics, but now it’s become much more polarized and sometimes even aggressive. Mental health—and areas around helping reduce stress and improve emotional wellness—will be a massive focus for the next year.”

(SHRM Online)


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