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Poll: American Workers are Increasingly Comfortable Talking about Mental Health in the Workplace

  • October 21, 2020
  • Patients and Families

The COVID-19 pandemic and required isolation and economic consequences have negatively impacted the mental health of many Americans. The pandemic has also changed the way we work, with many people at home or adopting physical distancing requirements and masks. In addition, many Americans are also juggling work and helping their children who are distance learning.

A new poll* from the American Psychiatric Association looks at employees’ perspectives on workplace mental health and how perspectives have changed in the last year. American workers are more aware of available mental health services, more willing to talk about mental health at work, and more comfortable using employer mental health services than they were in 2019, according to the survey. However, American workers are also more concerned than last year about retaliation if they seek mental health care.

The percentage of workers comfortable talking openly and honestly about mental  health with their supervisor or with coworkers increased from 51% for each in 2019 to 62% (supervisor) and 65% (coworkers) this year. The percentage of people concerned about retaliation if they seek mental health care increased from 35% in 2019 to 43% in 2020. Also, just slightly more than half of workers (52%) are concerned about retaliation or being fired if they take time off for their mental health.

Most employees (70% in 2019 and 2020) know how to access mental health services through their employers. However, Gen Zers (18-23 years) were significantly less likely than older generations to indicate so. Employees are also more aware of the mental health services offered by their employer than last year. In 2020, only 9% of employees did not know about their employers’ mental health services, down from 17% in 2019.

Men were slightly more likely to report being comfortable using mental health through their current employer and talking about mental health with their supervisor and coworkers than women. However, they were also more likely to say they were worried about retaliation or being fired if they sought treatment or took time off for their mental health. Older adults were also less likely to be comfortable talking about mental health with their supervisor or coworkers compared to younger workers.

More than one-third of employees report their employers are offering additional health and mental services since the start of the pandemic.

The most common employer offered services reported this year and last year were employee assistance programs (about 40% of employees each year) and primary care that offers sufficient mental health coverage (about 35% each year). Other types of mental health resources available from employers, each mentioned by 13% to 18% of employees this year, include mental health days, on-site mental health care, Mental Health First Aid training, and holistic wellness programs. While still a small number, the percentage of employees reporting that their employer offered virtual mental health supports, such as Headspace, increased from 8% in 2019 to 13% in 2020.

See resources for employers and employees from the Center for Workplace Mental Health of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, including resources on COVID-19 and Mental Health and Well-being. Read more about employee assistance programs here.

*The poll included questions on anxiety, climate change and mental health, stigma, mental health in the workplace and telehealth. The full results are available here. The new findings come from an APA-sponsored poll conducted Sept. 14-16, 2020, using an online omnibus study by ENGINE INSIGHTS among a demographically representative U.S. sample of 1,004 adults 18 years of age and older. The margin of error is +/-3.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Polling and methodology from 2019 is available here.


  1. Kaiser Family Foundation. The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use
  2. Nirmita Panchal, et al., Aug 21, 2020

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