The trauma and stress of the pandemic has had a profound impact on how individuals view their needs and lives, most clearly evidenced in the overwhelming numbers of unfilled jobs in some sectors. Adding to this, the pandemic has only exacerbated people's mental health issues, according to U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.
"We were struggling with high rates of anxiety and depression and suicide, including among young people, long before COVID-19 came," Murthy said as part of Yahoo Finance's All Markets Summit.
"And the question is, what are we going to do about it, recognizing that for many people the crisis of COVID-19 has actually increased rates of depression and anxiety," he added.
Recent reports show just how serious the impact is, and experts have been calling attention to the crisis within the pandemic since last year. It's also evident in the rush of wellness and remote mental health platforms that have emerged in the past year — especially those targeting employers and school-aged children.
Murthy said that the pandemic has given some people a chance to reflect on what is important to them and to focus on a better sense of well-being.
"I think some people have had the realization that the workplace that they currently operate in may not be supporting their mental health and well-being in the way that they need," Murthy said.
Recent surveys show the plethora of reasons employees have not returned to some segments of the economy. They include lack of job opportunity, not enough work-life balance and toxic work environments.
And some feel a lack of support for these issues at work, Murthy said.
"That highlights to me something that I was studying and thinking about, actually, in the years preceding the pandemic, which is... [that] loneliness and isolation in our workplaces is actually quite high. And it comes with the consequence for retention, for productivity, for creativity in the workplace," he said.
"There's still, unfortunately, in too many quarters, a sense of shame that people feel when they admit that they may be struggling with their mental health," Murthy added.
The solution cannot be found in simply creating employee resource programs or providing services like remote health options.
Instead, it will require a new culture at work, a new environment that drives a focus on mental health — and it has to start at the top, Murthy said.
"It has to be modeled by leaders. This can't just be lip service," he said.
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