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How is COVID-19 affecting employees’ behavioral health conditions?

Going out to a sea of face masks, constantly having to use hand sanitizers, and looking at the stats every day – it is no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting behavioral health conditions. Not only does this have ramifications for society, but it will also affect businesses through a decline in productivity. For employers, therefore, it is vital to understand the state of behavioral health conditions, the role of the pandemic, and what actions to take. In this Pacific Prime article, we’ll walk you through just that.

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Behavioral health vs Mental health

Before we dive into how the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is affecting behavioral health conditions, let’s take a closer look at behavioral health itself. There is a huge misconception that behavioral health and mental health are the same thing – after all, they are incredibly similar. But, in reality, there are subtle differences between the two.

Mental health is a state of well-being where individuals realize their own potential, cope with normal stressors, work productively, and contribute to their community. It includes factors like biology, psychological conditions, and habits. For example, mental health disorders include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.

On the other hand, behavioral health looks at how your habits affect your overall physical and mental well-being. In a way, behavioral health is a subset of mental health. However, the two frequently occur at the same time. Examples of disorders include substance abuse, gambling, sex addiction, and eating disorders.

COVID-19 as a trigger

While concerns about behavioral health were growing before COVID-19, the pandemic has exacerbated things for those already suffering. The WHO cites reasons like working from home, temporary unemployment, home-schooling on children, lack of physical contact with loved ones, as well as worrying about getting infected.

However, given the unprecedented scale of this public health crisis and the economic fallout thereafter, even people who were not prone to behavioral health issues before may succumb to it now. BlueCross BlueShield, an association of US health insurance companies, found that 93% of people had at least one behavior change since the outbreak began.

There have been positive behavior changes like exercising more also reported, but more worryingly, there has also been a rise such as:

  • Eating more food
  • Drinking more alcohol
  • Smoking more
  • Vaping more
  • Using drugs for non-medical reasons

This could easily lead to increases in behavioral health issues. With the massive layoffs that COVID-19 has or will soon bring on, there will be an increase in the likelihood of behavioral health issues. Research shows that job loss correlates with a decline in self-esteem, increased depression, and higher rates of substance abuse.

Impact on productivity

When looking at the figures, the results are truly staggering. According to BlueCross BlueShield, around one in five adults will experience a mental health disorder at any point in a given year. This amounts to more than 200 million missed work days annually, costing the economy a whopping USD $16.8 billion.

Compared to their older counterparts, it is Gen Z (34%) and millennials (21.8%) that are more likely to suffer from behavioral health issues. Furthermore, as millennials are projected to comprise 75% of the workforce by 2035, employers should urgently recognise the impact of behavioral health on productivity and take steps to protect employee’s mental health.

Employer response

There are a range of things employers can do in order to provide support for employees suffering from behavioral health conditions. For starters, employers should work to reduce the stigma associated with behavioral health conditions, increase their well-being benefits package, and communicate to employees what support is on offer.

Fortunately, COVID-19 has brought a rise in telehealth solutions and virtual care as the pandemic continues to shape the healthcare sector across the board. There remain many opportunities for employers to tap into this sector to provide support to employees. Other common programs include:

  • Mental/behavioral health assessments
  • Counseling sessions through Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)
  • Stress management programs
  • After-work yoga, meditation, or mindfulness sessions
  • Health insurance coverage which includes mental health and substance abuse treatment

Safeguard your employees’ mental health with the following tips.

Need more information?

There are a wealth of resources available on employee well-being benefits on the Pacific Prime blog. To get started on designing and structuring a benefits package, check out this detailed guide created by our team. Alternatively, if you don’t want to do it yourself, we also have experts that are ready to advise you.

As a global insurance broker and employee benefits specialist, we help businesses of all sizes give their staff a better working experience. Whether it’s a group health insurance plan or a wellness program, we take into account your needs, budgets, and implement a solution for you. Our online Prime Care portal also takes the stress out of managing an employee benefits plan.

Feel free to contact our team today for a no-obligation quote!

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