Poor mental health in US costing billions of dollars in lost productivity
The U.S. has a mental health crisis and it’s costing the economy tens of billions of dollars in lost productivity.
According to a recent online Gallup survey with 15,809 respondents, 19% of U.S. workers rate their mental health as “fair” or “poor," and that cohort is four times more likely to have unplanned absences because of it.
Based on those results, Gallup projected that these workers are estimated to have almost 12 days of unplanned absences a year, costing the U.S. economy $47.6 billion in lost productivity on an annual basis.
“It’s a real wake-up call for U.S. employers that the job has a net negative impact on mental health,” Dan Witters, research director for the Gallup National Health and Wellbeing Index, told Yahoo Finance, adding that the total cost was “bigger” than expected.
The survey found that 33% of U.S. workers feel their job has a “somewhat negative” impact on their mental health while 7% indicated an “extremely negative” impact. It also asked individuals to rate their overall mental health — 13% indicated excellent, 34% said very good, and 34% said good.
Together, those individuals missed an average of 2.5 workdays per year due to mental health. Meanwhile, 16% rated their mental health fair while 3% said poor, combining for an average of 11.8 missed days a year.
These absences can be attributed to a number of factors, including physical and mental burnout, attending therapy during normal work hours, or simply needing a “mental health day” to recharge.
'There's not enough therapists and psychiatrists'
Mental health care in the U.S. has been inundated with systemic issues for decades.
One of the main reasons why is because research and training for mental health care and for physical health care are treated separately. This has led to a limited or lack of insurance coverage, a lack of available treatment types, and a lack of behavioral health expertise — which includes both mental illness and substance use disorders.
“Many psychiatrists and therapists do not accept insurance, so you have to pay out of pocket if you want to receive coverage,” Darcy Gruttadaro, chief innovation officer at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), told Yahoo Finance. “And many people can’t afford to pay because it’s extremely expensive. So there’s not enough therapists and psychiatrists in health plan networks.”
Even when someone does find an in-network provider, they are often not accepting new patients or have long waits for an actual appointment.
“Those are routine circumstances that people experience in trying to access care,” Gruttadaro said. “They can’t afford to pay out of pocket, have a long wait, or can’t find someone who is accepting new patients, whether or not they’re in-network.”
Within the workplace, many employees find that accessing mental health support services isn’t easy. In fact, according to the Gallup survey, 33% of workers don’t actually know if their employer provides easily accessible mental health support services, while 24% indicated that they know they don’t.
And according to Wendi Safstrom, president of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation, the U.S. health care system is vastly underprepared to handle any more demand when it comes to mental health care.
The COVID effect
The coronavirus pandemic only worsened America’s mental health crisis.
A Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) study published in February 2021 found that nearly 12% of adults surveyed seriously considered suicide in the prior month while 29.6% reported COVID-19-related trauma- and stressor-related disorder symptoms, 33% reported anxiety or depression symptoms, and more than 15% reported increased substance use.
Remote work served as both a blessing and a curse for many employees throughout the pandemic— it allowed flexibility for workers but also limited face-to-face interactions, which some individuals relied upon amid a period of isolation and uncertainty.
At the height of the pandemic, though, mental health providers were in short supply.
“The mental health system in the U.S. is extremely hard to navigate, whether you’re navigating it through employer-sponsored benefits or otherwise,” Gruttadaro said. “We have a shortage of psychiatrists and therapists, first of all, so we don’t have enough to meet the need, even pre-pandemic before we had an uptick in the number of people experiencing mental health conditions.”
The State of Mental Health in America 2022 report indicated that for every mental health provider in the U.S., there are an estimated 350 individuals in need of care, though it did note that "these figures may actually be an overestimate of active mental health professionals, as it may include providers who are no longer practicing or accepting new patients."