Mental Health Special Series
Poor mental health is costing employers billions

Published by Katie Gray on

The World Health Organization’s predictions regarding the growth of depression and its negative impact on health were dire prior to the pandemic. Since the pandemic, numbers have been on the rise.

In 2010, the World Health Organization said that by 2020, “depression will emerge as one of the leading causes of disability globally, second only to ischemic heart disease.” And then COVID happened.

Isolating at home is a challenge, and it is stressful to not infect others at home. Katie Gray / The Mainstream

The rise in cases of anxiety and depression have sprouted from people dealing with the unknown, isolation, and other factors like juggling everyday life, and pandemic complications. The Lancet Commission is a global resource of science and health leaders who identify the most pressing issues in science, medicine, and global health, and then provide research and recommendations to improve global health policies and practices. Recently, the Lancet Commission completed a series of research studies which found that anxiety, depression, and distress statistically did increase in the pandemic while, for the general population, suicide rates, life satisfaction, and loneliness statistics remained largely stable throughout the first year of the pandemic. However, statistics for college students showed significant change.

Bad mental health is not just damaging to the individual, but also the people around them, their co-workers and employers, and their community. As the Lancet Commission has described, “Mental health holds personal, economic, and societal relevance given its greater impact on human activity than any other non-communicable illness.” Mental illness also leads to higher rates of mortality.

College students juggle many personal factors every day that are stressful and sometimes hard to ask for help with. This overload of stress hormones in the body increases the chance of anxiety or depression developing as well as other diseases. Sleep, memory, and concentration will also be impaired, things that are detrimental to learning.

Chronic stress can potentially increase noradrenergic action in the brain, causing even more norepinephrine to release when later stress occurs. As the Endocrine Society reports, “Problems with norepinephrine levels are associated with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. Bursts of norepinephrine can lead to euphoria (very happy) feelings but are also linked to panic attacks, elevated blood pressure, and hyperactivity. Low levels can cause lethargy (lack of energy), lack of concentration, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and possibly depression.”

The struggle with mental health is serious,according to Sapien Labs, “Some estimates suggest that major depression alone is costing employers $31 billion to $51 billion per year in lost productivity. The World Economic Forum reports that by 2030, the global costs of mental health problems will total over $6 trillion.” Sapien Labs is a nonprofit that studies mental issues, founded by Tara Thiagarajan who has a doctorate in neuroscience from Stanford.

The impact of mental health is much greater than we can fathom. Poor mental health at work can come from problems in relationships between employers and their workers, scheduling issues, the work tasks themselves and how they are organized, the structures at work. Employers thinking about just firing or laying off the employees suffering may want to consider the extent of the problem: “Nationally, about 76% of employees reported that they struggled with their mental health, and 42% were diagnosed with a clinical mental health disorder,” Sapien Labs reports.

Poor mental health affects the workplace in areas like attendance, employee turnover, reduced morale or productivity and can lead to drug abuse. Medical and disability spending increase and safety incidents can occur. Employee relationships can also suffer with harassment and bullying. “I’ve had an employer before where the only way that they knew how to talk to people was to belittle them. I find out she had a bunch of stuff going on at home and her husband was abusive and it just trickled down on us employees,” a Human Services major at UCC says. “From my personal experiences, I feel like mental health is like the root to why people treat people the way they do.”

 A toxic workplace environment can be created easily from stress and affects individuals differently. Katie Kenney, a local licensed clinical social worker, to an article by psychiatrist Sandra L. Bloom, an expert in health management, which explains that workplaces are also vulnerable to chronic stress and trauma, not just individuals. When employees join a workforce, they can take on the workplace’s identity and stress as well. In her article “Organizational Stress as a Barrier to Trauma-Informed Service Delivery,” Bloom explains that service workers especially get caught between their workplace’s demands and customers’ needs. The stress can affect workers’ energy so much that they lose enthusiasm and become unable to plan, a problem especially for college students. 

All of these aspects are a part of something bigger, such as the community. The community can struggle because the individuals are struggling, especially when an individual is struggling to perform in their job. Hanna Culbertson, UCC’s wellness counselor, says, “There is a quote I love (I am not sure who first said it) that speaks to this connection. It is ‘In deep and lasting ways, when we heal ourselves, we heal the world.’” This speaks to how we need to focus on our wellbeing, and that has positive impacts on our family, our community, and the world. It also speaks to me how we as a community can care for each other, by increasing access to mental health treatment, by normalizing reaching out for help, and by reaching out to our loved ones.”

It is hard to say what will come from this period of time later on, especially since millions of people are battling every day to be a functioning human being. Culbertson’s advice of connecting with each other and checking in, and also searching for resources, may be integral for the whole community.

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For more articles by Katie Gray please click here.

This is one of eight articles in our special series on mental health. For the rest of the articles in this series, select any of the links below:

Editorial – One stress factor we have control over: our diet
UCC student discusses his college anxiety
Trapped Behind the Mask: Neurodivergent student shares college pandemic struggles
Students, staff identify mental health treatment barriers amid rising need
Student Assistance Plan offers free virtual counseling services for UCC students, their families and roommates
Science-based coping strategies reduce mental stress, improve mental health
UCC students share their anxiety coping strategies