US Surgeon General Sounds Alarm to Employers About Mental Health of Employees

Global mobility professionals would do well to look after their talents as two studies, one from the US Surgeon General and another from TELUS Health, indicate an alarming number of people experiencing serious mental health issues. 

The US Surgeon General has already stepped in, issuing a warning about the alarming increase in loneliness and social disconnection among Americans. It has reportedly reached a significant point where urgent policy action is now required. 

In its own report, the TELUS Health Mental Health Index shows about 23% of workers in the States are at high risk of depression, anxiety, or addiction, while 41% are at moderate risk. These figures have significant negative implications not only for the individuals affected but also for employers and society as a whole.

The impact of poor mental health on productivity is evident, as workers who rate their mental health as poor have work productivity scores more than 39 points below the national average. 

There is clearly a need for innovative solutions to address the growing mental health crisis and highlights the opportunity for employers to create a stronger and healthier workforce, leading to improved overall well-being across the country.

How grave is the situation? The US Surgeon General’s report did not mince words. The impact of social isolation on mortality, it says, is equivalent to smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day. 

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy emphasizes that this report from the Surgeon General is reserved for urgent public health issues necessitating immediate action, and he argues that loneliness and isolation qualify as such.

Many Americans suffer from social isolation (measured objectively as a lack of connection to family, friends, and community) and loneliness (measured subjectively as a feeling of disconnection). This contributes to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, anxiety, depression, dementia, and susceptibility to infectious diseases.

These trends were already present before the Covid-19 pandemic, but the pandemic likely accelerated them for some individuals. It may have exacerbated existing family dynamics of connection or disconnection.

Employers need to promote employee health

Employers are in a favorable position to play a leading role in promoting employee health. The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that employees want employers to model healthy work-life boundaries and expect them to support and protect their well-being. 

The good news is that employers can access valuable and personalized resources to prioritize the health and well-being of their employees. TELUS Health partners with organizations worldwide to enhance the total well-being of employees and their families.

Trust in others has decreased over the years, with less than a third of Americans stating they can generally trust other people. Americans are spending more time alone each day, with a significant increase during the pandemic. Time spent with friends in person has dropped dramatically, and the number of close friends per person has decreased. Additionally, only 16 percent of Americans feel very attached to their local community.

The causes of this growing isolation can involve factors such as changes in marriage and family dynamics, declining religious affiliations, and shifts in social structures. However, it is crucial for individuals to be aware of the health risks associated with loneliness in order to understand the importance of seeking social connection.

Technology’s role has also affected many people. While social media can offer opportunities for connection, it can also contribute to increased loneliness. Excessive social media use or experiencing online harassment can make people feel more isolated.

Need for greater social connection

Addressing the loneliness epidemic requires a comprehensive approach. The Surgeon General report outlines six pillars that can contribute to fostering social connections and reducing isolation among Americans:

  • Strengthen the social infrastructure: Create more communal spaces, promote social activities, and improve access to them.
  • Develop pro-connection public policies: Consider the need for connection when passing laws and regulations across various sectors, such as transportation, education, and housing.
  • Mobilize the health sector: Train healthcare providers to identify individuals at risk of isolation and provide them with appropriate social support.
  • Reform digital environments: Require greater transparency from large tech companies and establish safeguards, especially for vulnerable populations such as restrictions on social media use by young people.
  • Deepen knowledge: Support academic research and public information campaigns to enhance understanding of the relationship between isolation and health, and raise awareness about the issue.
  • Cultivate a culture of connection: Utilize various channels, from politics to entertainment, to reinforce the value of connection and reduce polarization.

These recommendations are challenging. However, given the magnitude of the issue, there’s a compelling need to build a movement to restore the social fabric of the country. This requires collective efforts to destigmatize loneliness and implement cultural and policy changes.