Consumer / Employer

Report: Employed Individuals Experience Worse Anxiety, Depression Than National Average

The report was commissioned by Wysa, a company that created an AI chatbot for mental health support. It found that 40% of working adults suffer from moderate to severe anxiety and/or depression. Many of these employees would prefer talking to an app about their struggles than someone in their workplace.

About 40% of employed adults suffer from moderate to severe depression and/or anxiety, a new report found. The statistic is in stark contrast to national averages, which show that 11.4% of all adults experience depression and 8.2% suffer from anxiety.

The report was commissioned by Boston-based Wysa, a company that created an AI chatbot for mental health support. Its app is available for consumers, employers, public health agencies, payers and providers. The startup chose to conduct the study after seeing the toll Covid-19 took on mental health, said Ramakant Vempati, co-founder and president.

“There’s this question mark: Is this behind us? Was this a blip? Is it back to normal? Are we going to go ahead and just carry on as before? Or is this something that has fundamentally changed?” Vempati said in an interview.

The mental health crisis is most certainly not behind working adults, the survey of 2,024 respondents in the U.S. and U.K. found. And management seems largely unaware of the issue. More than four in 10 workers said they suffer from anxiety, but their bosses don’t know. Another 38% said they suffer from depression that their employer isn’t aware of.

Many are afraid to say they need time off for mental health. About one in three employees tell their employers that they are physically ill in order to get a much-needed break and one in four use their vacation days. Another 42% just power through work without taking a break. 

“There is openness to talking about it [now]. Even then, people feel hesitant in coming forward,” Vempati said. “I thought that was a very big, stark reminder of the challenge we have and how important it is to create mechanisms for people to get help without friction.”

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When asked if they would prefer to talk about their mental health with an app — like Wysa — or someone from their workplace, most chose an app. Nearly 75% of respondents selected an app over human resources, 59% chose an app over their manager and 58% chose an app over a coworker. Even more shocking to Vempati is that 68% chose an app over a physician, although 55% selected a therapist over an app. These findings highlight the importance of digital mental health solutions in easing people’s stress, he added.

“That is reassuring, I think, to an employer who’s considering whether this is worth doing, or if this is going to actually move the needle,” Vempati said. 

It’s not immediately clear whether other studies have been done that show people prefer an app over physicians, but the anonymity factor does play into privacy preferences generally when it comes to seeking mental health help.

Younger generations report higher levels of mental health struggles, the survey found. About half of working adults aged 16 to 34 suffer from moderate to severe depression, compared to one-third of those nearing retirement age. This could be that younger generations are more educated on mental health and are able to notice the signs better, or that older adults are more comfortable in their jobs after gaining more experience.

While mental health has become a priority for employers in recent years, the report is a reminder that more needs to be done, Vempati said. Employers need to make it easier for employees to access therapists. However, there are also cases when a therapist might not be the right solution, like for those experiencing financial distress or those in need of caregiving assistance. Employers need to provide support for those kinds of issues as well, Vempati said.

“The report is highlighting the fact that, number one, we are in a crisis,” he said. “We have a very large problem. Number two, it’s not going to go away. And number three, what we have right now is helping but we need to do more. We need to do much, much more.”

As healthcare costs rise for employers and the world experiences economic headwinds, Vempati stressed the importance of providing mental health support to employees, not cutting back.

“If you don’t intervene in mental health, you will have to pay in other ways because of churn, because of absenteeism, because of presenteeism and because of downstream medical costs,” he said. Presenteeism refers to when employees are not fully functioning while at work.  

Photo: metamorworks, Getty Images