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The mental health of your millennial employees

It's declining — and fast.

Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996 according to Pew Research External Site) may be responsible for breaking down barriers when it comes to recognizing and talking about behavioral health conditions, but that’s because they’re more susceptible to them External Site than other generations. This trend has only gotten worse with the COVID-19 pandemic — the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) reports that nearly all millennials (92 percent) External Site say the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health.

With millennials projected to be 75 percent of the workforce by 2025 External Site, this is something that your business can’t afford to ignore. That’s because some behavioral health conditions are linked to an increased prevalence External Site of chronic physical conditions like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, high cholesterol, and heart disease. The more employees you have with one or more chronic health condition, the more productivity in your workplace plummets — and health care costs in your organization skyrocket.

To help turn this trend around, it’s important to understand what millennials are experiencing and how to tailor your benefits to help improve their overall health.

Millennials are suffering — now more than ever

When the BCBSA first published its Health of America report on millennial health in 2019, the outlook wasn’t pretty. The initial report showed a serious decline in health after age 27, largely driven by six behavioral health conditions (major depression, substance use disorder, alcohol use disorder, hyperactivity, tobacco use disorder, and psychotic disorders. Since that report was published, millennial health continues to decline — due to substantial increases in several of those conditions.

According to the BCBSA, rates of behavioral health conditions in millennials are now rising by double digits External Site — with a 12 percent increase in depression diagnoses, a 7 percent increase in alcohol use disorder, and a 5 percent increase in tobacco use disorder and substance use disorder since 2019. Today, nearly one third of all millennials have a behavioral health condition. And, thanks to the pandemic, this past year has resulted in 34 percent more alcohol consumption, a 20 percent increase in smoking, and a 16 percent increase in non-medical drug use.

With stats like these, it’s likely you’re starting to see the impact these conditions are having on your millennial employees. Learn more about how these behavioral health conditions can negatively affect your workforce.

Major depression

According to the World Health Organization, depression is one of the leading causes of disability External Site worldwide and, along with anxiety disorder, costs the global economy about $1 trillion a year in lost productivity. Depression negatively affects how your employees think External Site, feel and act, and can range from mild to severe illness.

How it affects your workforce: Common symptoms of depression include feeling overwhelmingly sad, losing interest in previously enjoyed activities, loss of energy or increased fatigue, and difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions. When left untreated, it may significantly impact External Site your employees’ performance at work, such as their level of engagement, ability to focus and make decisions, communicate effectively, and more.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is one of the most common External Site behavioral health conditions affecting young children but is now known to also affect many adults, including a large number of women External Site. The prevalence of ADHD in millennials is just under 7 percent, which is a 39 percent increase from 2014 to 2018.

How it affects your workforce: If you feel forgetful occasionally or sometimes get distracted with a task, you can usually recover from it without incident. But for those suffering from ADHD, it’s a different story. Symptoms include External Site being unable to concentrate or focus on tasks, impulsive behavior or thinking, disorganization, trouble with multitasking, poor time management skills, and trouble coping with stress — all which spell trouble for working adults.

Substance use disorders

When someone is unable to control their use of a harmful substance like tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drugs and it affects their day-to-day life, it becomes known as substance use disorder. According to the BCBSA, substance use disorder and alcohol use disorder both shave 10 years off a healthy, normal life and has increased in prevalence by 17 percent and 5 percent, respectively, over the last five years. Nearly 6 percent of millennials suffer from tobacco use disorder, which has increased in prevalence by 10 percent from 2014 to 2018.

How it affects your workforce: According to the National Safety Council External Site, an employee suffering from substance use disorder misses, on average, nearly five weeks or 25 days of work each year — increasing the likelihood for turnover. Many employees attempt to hide these disorders for fear of losing their jobs, but these disorders also often create a ripple effect External Site where not just individual employees are affected. Employers often face increased health care costs for treatment and pay for loss of productivity and employee absences. But substance use disorders can also create a dangerous working environment External Site for the rest of your employees, leading to on-the-job accidents and increased workers’ compensation claims.

Psychotic disorders

The BCBSA identifies 17 specific disorders that fit into this category, including everything from personality and identity disorders to food-related disorders, paranoia, delusions, and schizophrenia. This class of disorders is usually serious, and conditions need immediate treatment. Overall, these conditions have increased in prevalence by 26 percent over a five-year period and lead to nearly 15.5 years of healthy life lost.

How it affects your workforce: Because the number of disorders that fit into this category is so vast, the effects on your workplace are difficult to pinpoint. However, a recent study External Site showed that current workplace stigma and discrimination toward people living with psychotic disorders often caused work avoidance, a reluctance to disclose their mental health conditions to their employers, work-related stress, and fewer years spent working overall.

How your business can respond to this mental health crisis

Despite the bleak outlook for the health of many millennials, 68 percent report External Site they’re willing to explore tools to help them live a healthier life. By understanding the ways that mental and physical health are intertwined, you can better make decisions about holistic, whole-health benefits to support your millennial employee population. This might include, or a combination of, the following solutions:

  • Make care more accessible. Time and cost are major barriers to millennials getting the mental health treatment that they need. Weekly visits to a therapist in addition to the cost of medication can add up — fast. One option is virtual visits Opens in a new window, which make it easier for your employees to seek treatment for behavioral health conditions as they may not have to take as much time out of their workday for appointments. You can also consider making mental health screenings more standard or review your networks to ensure they seamlessly connect primary care and behavioral health providers to focus more on whole-person care.
  • Remove the stigma around mental health. While millennials are more open about their struggles with mental health compared to previous generations, it doesn’t make much of a difference if they don’t feel comfortable being open about it at work. Many either avoid taking time off, which can affect productivity, or delay seeking care if midday appointments interfere with their schedule. As an employer, you can make it clear in your policies that there are no repercussions for taking time away from work due to mental health reasons and incorporate mental health education into your overall wellness programming to help demonstrate your support.
  • Help employees embrace healthier lifestyles. Supporting your employees’ health and well-being today goes well beyond traditional medical coverage, including benefits like expanded paid time off or sick leave, fitness classes or gym reimbursement, and help with paying off student loan debt or ongoing tuition expenses. With as much time as your employees spend in the office (or, thanks to the pandemic, working remotely from home), your company has real power to support a healthier, less stressed workforce. Look at how the policies and processes you have in place can affect health and well-being and ask for regular input on what might be lacking. If your employees are still working away from the office, understand how that may be impacting an already lonely and stressed generation — and be sure to reach out regularly to check in on how they’re managing.

Find out more about the millennials in your workplace

When you download your free copy of the Millennials In Your Workplace e-book Opens in a new window, you can take advantage of extensive research, in-house data and subject matter experts to create sustainable, long-term changes in your workplace today.

Questions? Contact your authorized Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield account representative, or email us at blueatwork@wellmark.com Send Email.