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Nearly Half of American Workers Now Suffer From Mental Health Issues During COVID-19

February 2, 2021

Updated study by The Standard provides evidence that the pandemic has significantly increased workers’ mental health and substance abuse issues

PORTLAND, Ore. — According to an updated study released today, nearly half (46%) of full-time American workers are suffering from mental health issues, marking a significant increase from 39% one year ago. In an effort to understand the state of workplace behavioral health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Standard and Versta Research conducted the 2020 Behavioral Health Impact Update to complement the original Behavioral Health Impact Study, released prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

Results from the updated study unlock new information about the pandemic’s effect on U.S. workplaces only one year later, with noteworthy increases in workers’ mental health and substance abuse issues across generations and multiple industries.

  • Among workers struggling with mental health issues, more than half (55%) report it has been affecting their work since the pandemic began.
  • Nearly one in 10 employees have experienced lower productivity or missed work because of addiction or substance abuse.
  • Among workers struggling with addiction or substance abuse issues, over one-third (36%) say it has affected their work more since the pandemic began.
  • One in three survey respondents say that half or more of their work time suffers when they are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues.

“The numbers speak for themselves — it’s critical for companies to offer employee benefits that include more robust and accessible well-being resources that help workers stay healthy and productive,” says Melissa Oliver-Janiak, senior director of Benefits and HR Service Center at The Standard. “These findings support the services we’ve been providing to our own employees and the need for employers to find new, effective and creative ways to support their people through this crisis.”

The effects of the pandemic will continue to be felt by workers and their employers well into the new year as organizations anticipate how remote work and safety protocols might evolve with vaccine rollouts.

Along with the rising behavioral health issues confirmed in The Standard’s study, many workers are also experiencing increased pain and musculoskeletal issues due to inadequate work-from-home office set-ups that aren’t ergonomically sound.

“During this prolonged time of uncertainty and stress, employers must approach their well-being offerings holistically,” says Dan Jolivet, Workplace Possibilities practice consultant at The Standard. “The pandemic is creating a greater risk for comorbidity — co-occurring mental and physical conditions often associated with worse health outcomes and more complex treatment — which, if left without intervention, could be detrimental to an employee’s productivity or require an extended disability leave,” Jolivet adds. “Fortunately, there are effective programs available, like our Workplace Possibilities ProgramSM, aimed at proactively addressing physical and behavioral conditions that help an individual stay at work or return to work quickly and safely.”

To access more insights and resources from The Standard, visit

The Standard’s 2020 Behavioral Health Impact Update

The 2020 Behavioral Health Pandemic Impact Study was conducted by Versta Research on behalf of The Standard. 1,425 full-time employees in the U.S. were surveyed about mental and behavioral health issues in the workplace. The survey measured changes stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, with an initial survey of 2,004 employees having been conducted from Sept. to Oct. 2019. All respondents were between the ages of 18 to 69, employed full-time, aware of employer-sponsored disability benefits, whether or not their employer offered those benefits and whether they participated in them. All industries and economic sectors except federal government employees were included. Final data were weighted to bring oversampled industries back down to their proper proportions and to ensure comparability to 2019 data.

In the overall total of respondents, mental health was measured using the Kessler K6 scale with cut-off criteria recommended by Judith J. Prochaska, Hai-Yen Sung, Wendy Max, Yanling Shi and Michael Ong in Validity Study of the K6 Scale as a Measure of Moderate Mental Distress Based on Mental Health Treatment Need and Utilization published in the International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, June 2012, Volume 21(2): 88–97. Addiction and substance abuse were measured using three items from the TAPS-1 quick-screen tool from the National Institute on Drug Use, to assess frequency of problem use of alcohol, prescription medication and illicit substances. Problem use of substances was not measured in 2019, so comparisons are not available.

About The Standard

The Standard is a family of companies dedicated to helping customers achieve financial well-being and peace of mind. In business since 1906, we are a leading provider of financial protection products and services for employers and individuals. Our products include group and individual disability insurance, group life, dental and vision insurance, voluntary (employee-paid) benefits, absence management services, and retirement plans and annuities for employers and individuals. For more information about The Standard, visit or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

The Standard is the marketing name for StanCorp Financial Group, Inc., and its subsidiaries: Standard Insurance Company, The Standard Life Insurance Company of New York, Standard Retirement Services, Inc., StanCorp Mortgage Investors, Inc., StanCorp Investment Advisers, Inc., StanCorp Real Estate, LLC, and StanCorp Equities, Inc.



Lisa Martin-Bomnskie

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