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Leon Kaye headshot

Business Must Strive to Take on the Other Pandemic: Mental Health Struggles

On top of a resurgent pandemic, it's clear we're in the midst of a mental health crisis, one that will surely increase over the next several months.
By Leon Kaye
Mental Health

Just when many of us feel as if we have reached peak pandemic fatigue, we’re inundated with more news about potential lockdowns and restrictions as winter sets in and a fading presidential administration refuses to do anything to fight the surge of COVID-19 cases. On top of all this, it's clear we’re already in the midst of a mental health crisis, one that will surely increase over the next several months.

Hence there’s a concurrent pandemic that we’ve barely quantified and still struggle to understand. With a brutal winter upon us comes a holiday season that will continue ongoing separation from loved ones, as well as giving painful reminders of family members and friends we’ve lost, access to mental health care is more crucial than ever.

Yet, access to mental health services is still elusive for many Americans. Part of it is the continued stigma; though at least in popular culture, mental health issues are discussed with more empathy than the mockery typical of the past. On Netflix, The Queen’s Gambit shares the main character’s struggles with mental health and substance abuse issues with compassion. And while critics would say it’s about as fictitious as that hit series, Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of Princess Margaret has one of its best moments when the character confronts her struggles in the seventh episode of the latest season of The Crown.

But many companies are still scrambling to manage the needs of a housebound workforce. Other companies that have mostly essential workers on the payroll find themselves challenged to keep these people healthy — or engage in public relations gymnastics to maintain the veneer that all is right with their employees.

Evidence suggests the outlook of many employees is grim. Last month, the global staffing firm Robert Half revealed in a survey that more than a third of professional employees feel more burned out than they did a year ago.

To their credit, more companies are boosting options for mental health services. First, however, there’s an important threshold that management and employees need to cross: the ability to be open about struggles with mental health. Many rank-and-file workers still don’t feel comfortable broaching the topic with their managers.

More companies are stepping up on this front. Starbucks, which had already enhanced such options for employees in recent years, announced at the onset of the pandemic it would offer its retail employees 20 sessions a year with a mental health therapist or coach. If you’ve been in a Starbucks lately waiting for that latte — or any restaurant or retail store for that matter — you could see why such a benefit is a start, especially in areas where there is high resistance to measures such as social distancing and wearing masks.

Other companies as starkly different as Target and Salesforce are offering web- or app-based resources for free to employees. More are also slashing or eliminating the cost of co-pays for mental health care visits, or their health insurers are taking care of that for them.

Companies that still find the standard five visits a year for mental health care to be sufficient are not only behind the times, but may also be missing out on future talent. The online career information portal Handshake recently found that 65 percent of the students it surveyed said mental health is a priority during this pandemic — and more than 60 percent said it’s important that employers provide such benefits, now and post-pandemic.

Image credit: Dan Meyers/Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye