It’s ok to not be ok: Mitigating the long-term mental health impacts of the pandemic
February 16, 2021
It’s 8pm and, as a supervisor at a grocery store, you’re making sure all employees working the cash registers and self-check-out stands are ready to change shifts and go on break. It’s been almost a year since COVID-19 turned the world upside down, and you’ve grown accustomed to everyone wearing masks in the store. While you personally are only just finally starting to feel some hope now that vaccine distribution is getting underway, you’ve done your best to keep up morale at the store throughout these tumultuous and stressful months.
Walking toward the breakroom, you notice that one employee, Emily, looks like she’s just been crying.
“Everything alright?” you ask, gently.
She nods, holding back more emotions.
“It’s Ok to not feel Ok. We’re living through some really intense situations and lots of changes, day after day.”
You pause one more time before you pull out a business card from your wallet. “I have something for you. This card can connect you to a program with resources to deal with stress and uncertainty.”
You hand the card to Emily. It has a QR code to download an app, as well as a phone number to reach a care navigator, with a promise to connect the caller to a licensed therapist within a short timeframe.
“Why don’t you take some time and look it over? I’ll cover your register.”
This hypothetical scenario is all too real for benefit managers across the country intent on mitigating the pandemic’s negative consequences on the mental health and wellbeing of their covered population.
Each week, new research comes out showing increases in the prevalence of depression and anxiety as a result of the pandemic. For example, the New York State Health Foundation’s February 2021 report summarizes various ways the pandemic has been harmful to individual’s mental health, and found that the percentage of New Yorkers experiencing poor mental health is almost triple that of pre-pandemic levels. Moreover, Black, Hispanic, and young adults in New York are experiencing anxiety and depression symptoms at higher rates than the general population.
Pair this with a new study in JAMA that found increased rates of emergency department visits for mental health, substance use, and domestic violence between March and October of 2020, and it’s clear why mental health prevention and treatment is top-of-mind for health care purchasers. Purchasers want to ensure that their benefits offerings are helping employees effectively manage stress and anxiety, maintain productivity levels, and safely avoid the use of costly ED visits for mental health emergencies. They want solutions that are responsive to the needs and demographics of their covered population.
To support our member organizations and other health care purchasers, CPR launched a Collaborative on Purchaser Sharing and Solutions in the Mental Health Space last November. The Collaborative revolves around peer-to-peer sharing on the challenges, opportunities, and solutions available in the mental health space. Through monthly meetings with CPR staff and subject matter experts from Aon and Mercer, benefit managers from nine organizations have come together to find support as they navigate the pandemic’s impact on their covered population. Our collaborative meetings also explore how participants can wield their power as purchasers to make vendors in the mental health space more responsive to those who use and pay for care.
Our most recent Collaborative meeting featured educational presentations on the most salient challenges and opportunities in mental health today. For this event, CPR invited select vendors to present on a range of topics including resiliency, racial disparities in care and access, ongoing communication strategies, and employee awareness and engagement of purchaser programs. The presentations and rich discussions allowed purchasers to vocalize their most pressing needs, such as increasing access to evidence-based mental health treatment for adolescents and expanding solutions for non-English speakers. The two-day event was made possible through sponsorship by Ginger, a tech-enabled health system that brings instant access to mental health care for millions of employees across the globe.
CPR staff will take what the purchasers shared and use these insights to update the Evaluating High-Value Mental Health Care Toolkit that CPR published in 2018. By clearly documenting what employer-purchasers are looking for from mental health vendors – including health plans, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), and virtual solutions – CPR is able to push the market to better meet those needs.
The Collaborative and the Toolkit bring to life CPR’s theory of change: empowered customers + engaged vendors = a marketplace that benefits everyone. If one thing is clear, it’s that only through collaboration can we successfully mitigate the long-term mental health impacts of the pandemic.
Thank you to our sponsors who made the two-day event possible: