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Breaking down the Mental Illness & Wellbeing Crisis by Generation

More and more employers have noticed the escalating mental health and wellbeing crisis, turbocharged by the pandemic and associated policy interventions. But the top-line reporting highlighting the phenomenon often masks significant generational cleavages.

How, then, should we be breaking down the mental illness and wellbeing crisis by generation? Read on to find out.

Younger working age cohorts have elevated rates of mental illness

For starters, it helps to look at data more closely before beginning to craft workplace policy.

Why’s that? Well, although topline data show that mental illness affected more than one in five (22.8 per cent) U.S. adults in 2021, mental health outcomes amongst the youngest working-age cohort (18-25) seems to be far worse. That is according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

Indeed, the percentage of adults aged 18 or older with any mental illness (AMI) was highest among young adults aged 18 to 25, followed by adults aged 26 to 49.

How severe?

A third of adults aged 18 to 25 had AMI. Meanwhile, 28 per cent of adults aged 26 to 49 had AMI.

In contrast, 15 per cent of adults aged 50 or older.

The same break down holds when looking at rates of serious mental illness.

A shade over five per cent of adults had serious mental illness (SMI), according to the NSDUH.

The percentage of adults aged 18 or older with SMI, however, was more than double that rate, 11.4 per cent among adults aged 18 to 25.

Adults aged 26 to 49 again tracked closer (but still ahead of) to the base rate, at seven per cent.

Meanwhile, two point five per cent of adults aged 50 or older had SMI.

Download the Guide to the Surgeon General's Framework for Mental Health in the Workplace

The importance of survey data in treating the mental Illness and wellbeing crisis in workplace

Of course, these same generational breakdowns won’t necessarily show up at your organization. knowledge is power, all the same, particularly when developing and updating a wellbeing policy for your workplace.

How to go about it?

The leading practice here is to poll employees to understand where they are.

To this end, senior leadership should deputize its Wellbeing committee, inclusive of representatives from Safety Management and HR, to conduct situational analyses of the current state of wellbeing in the workplace.

What are the measurement tools they might use? These committees will need to solicit survey data coming from or related to the following:

  • Sickness absence
  • Work-related psychological injuries
  • Return to work rates
  • Exit interviews
  • Staff turnover rates
  • Audits of existing mental health policies and procedures
  • Focus groups of employees
  • Surveys of employee engagement
  • Audits of existing leadership and management training
  • Examinations of the mental health strategies of similar organizations
  • External expert advice and best practices from psychologically healthy workplace programs
  • Recognition of upcoming organizational change

Sure, knowledge is power, but there will still be work to do. Situational awareness is only one piece of developing a best-practice wellbeing management policy.

What are the others? Understanding what’s going on in the field is another component.

Policymakers, for their part, have taken note, pushing out new frameworks for wellbeing at work. One such framework comes from the U.S. Surgeon General. What’s in that framework for mental health in the workplace? Download our explanatory guide to find out.

Download the Guide to the Surgeon General's Framework for Mental Health in the Workplace