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There has been a dramatic rise in the number of employees seeking help for serious mental and emotional health issues in the past few years, according to global data from employee well-being service provider Workplace Options, evidence that employee emotional well-being should be a top priority for employers.

The analysis is extensive, covering three years of data (from 2012-14) from more than 100,000 employees across Asia, Europe, Africa, North America and South America to evaluate global trends in the use of Workplace Options’ employee assistance programs.

What researchers found was that while the total number of calls and inquiries regarding emotional health issues remained relatively consistent across all three years, those who reported serious mental and emotional health concerns rose at an “alarming” rate.

Specifically, according to Workplace Options analysis:

• The number of cases dealing with employee depression increased 58% between 2012 and 2014.

• The number of cases dealing with employee anxiety increased 74%.

• The number of cases dealing with employee stress increased 28%.

• Combined, employee depression, stress and anxiety accounted for 82.6% of all emotional health cases in 2014, compared to 55.2% in 2012.

The takeaway for employers, says Workplace Options CEO Dean Debnam, is “an immediate need to take a long, hard look at the employee support structures they have in place.”

“Companies need to assess what programs they have, whether employees know about them and use them, and whether they’re working,” he says. “Emotional and mental well-being for employees is a growing area of interest for employers across the world, but there are still far more employees who need support than have access to it.”

Similarly, an analysis of more than 22,250 calls to Canada Life Group’s EAP since 2010 also pointed to the growing problem of employee depression. That study found a 40% rise in calls about depression to a major EAP, suggesting the condition is the fastest-growing mental health concern for employers. A fifth of calls made to the EAP in the first three months of 2015 were about anxiety, depression and stress, which also represented a 5% increase year over year, the provider said.

Mental health directly impacts the workplace, Debnam says. In addition to impacting the morale and productivity of individual employees, it has a powerful effect on the bottom line, he says.

“Without people who come to work healthy, happy, engaged, and able to perform at a high level, no organization is going to thrive,” he says. “If an employee is suffering from mental health or well-being issues, it’s in the employer’s best interest to support that person and make sure they have access to help. It’s a lot more cost effective to help and support a current employee than to find a new one.”

“Emotional and mental well-being for employees is a growing area of interest for employers across the world, but there are still far more employees who need support than have access to it.”

A number of factors — including the global economy, loosening stigmas around mental health problems and legal changes around the world — are behind the jump in reported conditions, Debnam says.

“We see these issues among people regardless of economic activity, but in times of stagnant growth or recession, we see a lot more of them as people get anxious,” he says. “As the growth of the global economy has slowed or reversed course coming out of the recession of 2008 and 2009, we’ve seen more of these issues.

“On the legal climate, in the EU and increasingly in Asia, there are more regulations about the services that employers need to have in place to support employees,” Debnam continues. “In the U.S. as well, there is a growing duty of care on the part of employers to help and support employees with mental health issues than ever before.”

And, perhaps most importantly, there is more conversation than ever before revolving around mental health conditions, so people are less reluctant to get help.

That, in essence, is the silver lining of the data, Debnam says.

“There are two issues at work here: the growing prevalence of these problems and the increased willingness of people to reach out and seek help. The more common programs like EAP and other employee well-being efforts become, the more acceptable it will be for people to use them,” he says. “I think we’re seeing the beginnings of a shift in that dynamic right now.”

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