The Growing Mental Health Crisis.

The Impact on Culture, Business & Public Health

We recently released the results of our first State of Mental Health Survey, a national survey of more than 1,000 Americans 18-34.

The data tells a clear story: America is living on the brink. At a moment when lines for food banks stretch around the block, COVID-19 infection rates are skyrocketing, and Americans are increasingly socially isolated, we can see the alarming effects on the mental health of our generation:

Nearly all (96%) respondents reported feeling some level of anxiety in their lives, with 48% saying they experience anxiety frequently or all the time.

  • 38% say their mental health has worsened since this time last year.
  • Employers have much more work to do to support employee mental health:
  • Only 26% of respondents say their employers have implemented new programs to support them during the pandemic
  • But 2-in-3 young people consider their mental health when evaluating jobs and employers

The findings echo what we heard at a conversation Project Healthy Minds convened at IBM with business leaders about the burgeoning mental health crisis exacerbated by the social isolation we’re all going through right now.

The conversation was focused on what all of this might mean to us, looking at it through three lenses: impact on culture, business, and public health. We were joined by three experts:

Here’s what we heard from our panelists:

1. Yes, we have hit a tipping point in the growing mental health crisis.

At the end 2020, the American Psychiatric Association released a report showing anxiety and depression had tripled during the pandemic; not to mention, social isolation and loneliness were risk factors in and of itself in a pre-pandemic world. Dr. Kassler noted that being lonely and isolated has the same risk of mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. “Constant anxiety and stress can cause all sorts of problems related to your body, including chronic diseases,” Dr. Kassler continued.

He believes the best way to deal with stress is through resilience. “Resilience is our ability to bounce back from stress; our ability to cope with things that traumatize us. Resilience is not some innate characteristic we are born with or in our personality. It is a capacity we have that can be built and practiced like a muscle. Self-care builds our resilience and makes us able to cope with the stress. Self-care is real, it is science and it can build resilience.” So how do people engage with more self-care routines to cope with the increasing anxiety we are experiencing today?

2. The social isolation is fueling a wave of people turning to new self-improvement and self-care routines.

According to Will, starting in early April, Reddit saw 70-150% increased engagement in communities such as weight loss, running and motivation, as people wanted to use this time to self-improve and focus on their mind, body and spirit journeys. This increase in community activity, typically seen in early January as part of new year’s resolutions, took on a whole new form as people were quarantined to their houses and social activities were canceled for the rest of the year.

In addition, the panelists discussed how the question ‘how are you doing’ takes on a whole new type of significance right now. Before it might have just been a greeting.. Now we take a minute to pause and listen, and find ways to improve the answer to that question.

3.  The pandemic has ignited some companies to place a greater emphasis on the mental well-being of their employees, but much more needs to be done.

Companies are now being called upon to do more in the public health space,  much of what traditional public health agencies have done in caring for their employees and stopping the spread of disease within the workplace. For example, IBM and Reddit are spearheading the mental health charge in the workplace by taking care of employees, building products that can help, and investing time and money in social impact projects in the greater community. Whether it is utilizing AI for therapy chatbots or assessing the public's sentiment across online platforms, encouraging weekly meditation classes with team members or offering 24/7/365 confidential support from a licensed counselor, IBM and Reddit are at the forefront of innovation in the mental health space.

Just last fall, IBMers from around the globe co-created a mental health pledge, encouraging employees to prioritize their mental health both in and outside of the workplace. “We help enable people to be able to achieve health equality that enables IBMer’s to work effectively,” said Jonathan.

There has never been a more important moment for companies to prioritize their employees' mental health.

4. People are beginning to talk more openly about their mental health journeys.

The pandemic has had a negative impact on people’s mental health, but as Sabrina noted, “it is creating an opportunity to begin to normalize this in conversation. Look at meme culture across social media platforms. All these memes are subtly talking about mental health.” This prevalence, normalization and even humor about sharing these experiences about mental health shows its newfound acceptance in everyday conversation.

Will also talked about what he is seeing across Reddit communities. “There are a lot of communities on Reddit where you don’t have to be the best version of yourself that you have to be on other platforms. You can be the most vulnerable version of yourself. When you go to a community that is dedicated to a specific topic dealing with depression, you feel less alone. You get empathy instead of sympathy.”

As we look ahead to the beginning of 2021, maintaining positive mental health and wellness couldn’t be more important. Taking time out of your day to check-in and “give to yourself” is critical. Yes, employers have much more work to do to support employee mental health, but as we learned from the individuals, companies like IBM and Reddit are leading the charge.

Check out the Project Healthy Minds resource guide to find resources that are right for you:

Find the full survey “State of Mental Health” findings here.

Listen to the full playback of this panel discussion here.

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