As health officials continue to sound the alarm on the growing loneliness epidemic, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy says the prevalence of depression is closely linked. Loneliness and social isolation increase the risk for mental health problems, including depression. About 280 million people—or 5% of adults globally—have depression, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It’s a common mental health disorder that negatively affects sleep, appetite, decision making, focus, time management, and social connections.
“The impact on the global economy of depression alone is around one trillion dollars each year. That’s profound,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy tells Fortune. “That doesn’t count for anxiety and the other physical illnesses that we encounter when it comes to loneliness and isolation.”
Increasing rates of loneliness and poor mental health, therefore, are why Murthy outlined an advisory highlighting ways workplaces can support their employees’ mental health. Murthy says workplaces thrive when high importance is placed on fostering a supportive, inclusive environment that can combat rather than catalyze loneliness and mental health problems like depression. And strong well-being at work can improve employee satisfaction and engagement. In a survey conducted by Ipsos last year, 88% of U.S workers surveyed said feeling like they belong boosted their productivity.
“Our mental health is the fuel that allows us to show up in our life, at work, and at home in our communities,” he says. “When we struggle with our mental health, it impacts our productivity in the workplace, how engaged we are in our work, and even our retention, and our absenteeism.”
Here are Murthy’s five key pillars for supporting worker mental health:
- Protect workers from harm
- Support community and connection
- Optimize work-life harmony
- Create opportunities for workers to grow
- Ensure employees know they and their work matter
Especially since the onset of the pandemic and remote work, finding ways to support employees should be top of mind for leaders and has the potential for a myriad of positive outcomes, Murthy says. After all, having employees who are engaged at work is critical for a company’s bottom line.
“Employers have not just an interest, but I believe also a responsibility to do everything they can to support mental health in the workplace,” he says. “It ends up benefiting not just the organization itself, but the spillover benefits accrue to the broader community.”