Erin McClintock

The emergence of a new year is always an opportunity to reflect upon the one that has passed. And 2020 was a year for the record books. As a society, we saw a pandemic, a renewed uprising around racial injustice, a tumultuous election season, and for many, a collision of all of the facets of our lives coming together. Schools and workplaces converged at home, and employers were forced to explore ways to both keep the lights on and keep employees healthy.

All of these things illuminated the importance of mental health, bringing a topic that isn’t always talked about to the forefront. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that, even with the best preparation, there are some things that we just can’t anticipate. That said, there are some mental health trends that, based on what we’ve seen in 2020, we will likely see in the year to come — in the workplace, in the family, and in our schools.

Mental Health Trends in The Workplace

1. Employee mental health and well-being will become a budget line item

According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 36% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in June 2020, compared to just 11% in June 2019. From an employee standpoint, mental health challenges can impact retention, productivity, and job performance — not to mention healthcare costs. As we usher in 2021, forward-thinking workplaces recognize the benefits of investing in the mental health and wellness of their employees — and data supports this.

In one study conducted by the American Psychological Association, employees at companies that support wellness feel 53% more motivated than employees without that benefit. Another study from Deloitte found that investment in workplace mental health has yielded just over $4 for every $1 that was spent. And finally, research has shown that employees who are well — both mentally and physically, has had a positive impact on everything from productivity to retention, workplace satisfaction, job performance, and employee engagement.

So, bottom line — not only is prioritizing the well-being of employees a good thing from a people standpoint but from a business standpoint as well. This can come in many forms: counseling resources for employees, availability of apps or technology tools to promote positive employee mental health, the allotment of “mental health days”, or the utilization of workplace mental health education programs.

Promoting Workplace Mental Health In The Age of COVID-19

2. Employee resource and affinity groups will become commonplace

As the events of 2020 unfolded, many employees saw a collision of all aspects of their lives: their families, their occupations, their identities, and their passions and beliefs. Employees are bringing more “into the office” with them than ever before, and the line between work and personal lives is more blurry than ever before. It’s increasingly more difficult to ignore all of the factors which were so easy to compartmentalize in a pre-COVID world — and many employers have seen this play out in their employee’s well-being.

One way that many organizations are mitigating this work-life imbalance is by creating employee resource groups (ERG’s) or affinity groups. These communities are spaces in which employees can connect with others who share similar interests or aspects of an identity. For instance, affinity groups for parents, members of the LGBTQ communities, those focused on mental health, and affinity groups for women and people of color. By creating the structure for affinity groups, employers can create space and resources for supporting members of their community, fostering connection, and potentially increasing retention and satisfaction.

Mental Health Trends in The Family

3. Mental health will become dinner table dialogue

One silver lining that has come out of 2020 is that, although mental health challenges have risen, so too has dialogue around it. The simple question “how are you?”, typically met with cursory responses, has led many to engage in deeper conversations about their well-being. This is a trend that has extended into many families. As we welcome a new year, it is likely that conversations about mental wellness will continue to increase, particularly as we look closely at some of the lingering effects of the events of 2020. By discussing mental health openly, families can proactively address any challenges that may emerge and create space for identifying healthy ways to cope with adversity.

4. Parenting out of the shadows

As many workplaces and schools moved to a remote setting, working parents, in particular, felt a confluence of their identities. According to a 2020 global study of working parents in the US, UK, France, Germany, and Italy, conducted by Boston Consulting Group, 60% of respondents reported that they had no outside help in caring for and educating their children. From interruptions on Zoom meetings, balancing meetings to accommodate children’s schooling, and navigating unexpected school closures, workplaces and employees alike have found themselves unable to ignore the needs of working parents. As 2021 descends upon us, it will be critical that employers and employees come together to explore how to best support the working parents within their communities — for instance, flexible scheduling, additional parent-focused benefits, childcare stipends, or caregiving pods.

Mental Health Trends in Education

5. Prioritization of educator mental health

One of the unsung heroes of the pandemic, in addition to healthcare workers and first responders, has been educators. As parents found themselves in the situation of teaching their kids at home, we saw a trending increase in hashtags, blogs, and memes expressing gratitude and highlighting the importance of educators. Studies have also shown that decreases have taken place in teacher well-being — which, in many cases, can lead to increased burnout, decreased student satisfaction, and teachers leaving the workforce.

10 Mental Health Tips for Teachers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As we enter into 2021 and likely see additional changes take place within our education systems, many districts are recognizing the need for resources to protect their greatest asset- their educators. Professional development funding, structural changes that include teacher mental health care, and support groups are just some of the ways in which schools are focusing on the well-being of teachers — a mental health trend which we will likely (and hopefully) see continue in 2021.

6. An increase in mental health education

In 2020, at the start of the pandemic, EVERFI researchers explored the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of 11,000 students. 38% reported that they were more concerned about their mental well-being, and more than half reported feeling more stressed. 35% were more concerned about their use of technology, 47% were more concerned about academic preparedness, and 33% were more concerned about connections to their peers. These insights highlight the range of challenges and concerns that students are having, and affirms the importance of making sure that schools and communities think holistically about their well-being. In addition to having the appropriate resources in place to support student mental health, mental health education is another way to ensure that young people have access to the knowledge and skills necessary to maintain positive mental health and cope with challenges.

Summarized in a June 2020 op-ed:

“By investing in mental health education and services, we impact people now because they have the tools they need to manage challenges that may arise later. This, in turn, positively impacts society economically as well as socially. According to the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion a year in lost productivity. For every $1 spent on effective social-emotional learning programming, the return on investment is $11 in long term benefits (to students, communities, and schools).

We require education on a variety of topics to strengthen our intellect: math, science, reading, and social studies. Learning the skills to protect our brain should also be an essential component of education. Integrating an evidence-based mental health curriculum into America’s public schools has the real potential to save lives by enabling teens and adolescents to better recognize mental health issues among themselves and their peers and take steps to get help.”

For more information about how you can bring mental health resources to your community, check out EVERFI’s Mental Wellness Coalition.

Staying Healthy in a Changing Workplace Environment

Keep your workplace safe, promote employee well-being, and create a more inclusive work environment through online training.