COVID-19 and Mental Health: Are Employers Prepared for Increased Employee Substance Misuse?

Employers should prepare for a surge in substance misuse issues and employee mental health issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Safety Council (NSC) is warning employers to prepare for a surge in addiction issues and is offering guidance to handle employee mental health issues related to the pandemic.

At least 30 states are reporting spikes in fatal opioid overdoses and ongoing concern about mental illness or substance use disorders, all in connection with COVID-19, according to the American Medical Association. To help employers address these interconnected issues, the NSC is calling on employers to prioritize employee stress, including emotional and mental health, both now and as they return employees to traditional work environments.

Prepare for an Increase in Substance Misuse

Additionally, NSC warns employers that they must prepare for an increase in substance misuse – one that could be a serious threat to worker safety. Substance misuse also could result in significant costs for employers. Productivity losses, absenteeism and presenteeism, and worker’s compensation claims could result from substance misuse.

“Every single employee is facing an incredible amount of stress right now. Employees need mental health resources and support both in the immediate future and down the line,” said Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO, National Safety Council. “Employees would benefit from having employer support through these difficult times. It can make a significant difference for their mental and physical health.”

Employee Mental Health Resources and Tools Available

National Safety Month is observed each June to raise awareness about the leading causes of preventable death and injury. Through its SAFER initiative, NSC is providing employers with resources and tools to address mental health concerns. These concerns can be heightened as workplaces reopen and employers help employees through what has undoubtedly been a stressful period.

In general, trauma, economic distress and unemployment increase risk for mental health issues and substance use disorders. The COVID-19 pandemic intensifies the threat of mental health distress in several ways. Stress caused by finances, employment, and child/family care instabilities, as well as fear of exposure to COVID-19 is common. Extended social isolation can lead to the development of substance use disorders. Those with previous substance use disorders are even more vulnerable due to decreased accessibility to treatment, recovery supports and harm reduction services, all a result of the pandemic.

Mental Health and Stress Playbook

NSC lays out recommendations for employers in its Stress, Emotional and Mental Health Considerations PlaybookNSC also has created a how-to guide for addressing employee stress and anxiety regarding returning to work. The resources are part of a suite of tools developed as part of the SAFER: Safe Actions for Employee Returns initiative.

Each person will experience the stress and trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic differently. Some may not show signs of or experience mental health distress for weeks or even months. In Stress, Emotional and Mental Health Considerations Playbook, NSC recommends employers build short- and long-term responses to these mental health considerations. The playbook also offers guidance to secure buy-in and engagement. Leadership, management, human resources, communications and employees, all play a role in success.

Employers are in a unique position to spot signs and symptoms of misuse early, including impairment. NSC encourages employers to implement opioid policies and procedures as part of their return-to-operations strategy. Policy guidance is available in the NSC Opioids at Work Employer Toolkit. Drug overdose – primarily from opioids – is the leading cause of preventable death for American adults. In fact, a person is more likely to die from an accidental opioid overdose than a car crash.

This entry was posted in Health and Safety and tagged , , , , by Sandy Smith. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the Global EHSQ Content Lead for Intelex Technologies. Formerly the Content Director for EHS Today, she has been writing about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990. Her work as a journalist and editor has been recognized with national and international awards. She has been interviewed about occupational safety and health for national business publications, documentaries and television programs; has served as a panelist on roundtables; and has provided the keynote address for occupational safety and health conferences.

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