Stressed And Anxious — Our New Normal?
No matter how they voted this election cycle, Americans are feeling stressed and anxious.
This isn’t a new phenomena. The financial crisis of 2008 caused a spike in stress levels which has continued unabated for many across the country — particularly lower income families, parents with children under 18, women, and young adults. In this rollercoaster election year both Democrats (55%) and Republicans (59%) were likely to say the election was a very or somewhat significant source of stress according to the Stress in America™ survey. Post-election, many people could be facing four difficult years as mental health crisis hotlines reported surges in call volume well above already high levels.
Beyond feeling stressed, many people have experienced anxiety during this election cycle. In case you’re wondering what’s the difference between stress and anxiety: the two conditions go hand-in-hand with anxiety being a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease in reaction to stress and is often about an imminent event accompanied by “catastrophizing” the uncertain outcome. Sound familiar?
The sad result is our stressful environment is literally making us sick. Research by the American Psychological Association shows a connection between poor health and chronic stress. Among adults in the United States, those who report experiencing extreme levels of stress are twice as likely to report fair or poor health, compared to those with low stress levels.
In occupations that track worker productivity closely (nursing for example) prolonged stress has been shown to lead to higher levels of absenteeism, turnover, illness, injury, and disability. Left unchecked chronic stress can turn into burnout and depression — which nurses experience at more than 2x the average rate.
Industries that don’t measure productivity closely are not immune (some tech companies don’t track time off). The impact of stress is still high whether tracked or not. The Millennials and Gen Xers working in many tech companies report higher levels of stress than other generations.
For employers, these trends should be concerning. Health claims data analyzed by the actuarial firm Milliman demonstrate a clear mind-body healthcare connection. Employees with stress and anxiety are shown to have healthcare costs 2x higher than the average worker. If a stressed or anxious employee also has a chronic medical condition (half of adults have at least one chronic condition such as hypertension or diabetes) their healthcare costs can be 4x to 10x higher than average. Clearly, the cost of healthcare for stressed and anxious employees is having a large and growing financial impact on the bottom-line of many companies.
Unfortunately, most people don’t seek the mental health care they need — usually because of issues around stigma, access, and cost. First, it’s hard for many people to identify they have a mental health condition. Then it can be difficult to admit they have a mental health condition and even harder to admit it to others, especially their employer. Even if they want to seek help or treatment it can be hard to find a qualified professional, particularly one that is close by and has convenient hours. Many people don’t have great mental health insurance coverage and even those who do often find the out-of-pocket expense can be prohibitive. All of these obstacles to mental health add up.
Fortunately, for both employers and employees, there is help on the way. Digital health companies are providing mental health services delivered via smartphone that are available anytime and anywhere. Many of the programs are based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which is considered by medical and mental health professionals to be the gold standard for treating stress, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Studies have shown the efficacy of these digital health programs can be as high or higher than traditional face-to-face therapy and with none of the side effects of frequently prescribed pharmaceuticals.
Some of these digital mental health companies also feature support from health coaches. There is no “easy button” for mental health changes and the support of a trained professional can be critical in making lasting improvements. Interestingly, some of the most effective mental health programs rely on texting with coaches which research has shown to be both highly engaging and cost effective. The feeling of “alliance” (somebody cares and wants to help you) has always been a key component of good mental health outcomes and texting is a surprisingly effective way to generate that positive relationship.
Take a minute (literally) to watch a brief video highlighting how digital health solutions provide people in need with the tools and skills for managing their mental health. I think you will agree digital mental health services can knock down the barriers of stigma, access,and cost.
If you’re an employer, investigate these new digital mental health options for providing your employees with a truly value-added benefit. If you’re an employee, check out the resources available to you online and talk to your HR team about the potential of adding digital mental health solutions to your company’s benefits.
As we head into 2017, let’s all make a resolution to get the help we need to make reduced stress and anxiety The New Normal.