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The Chairman's Blog
The Next Global Pandemic: Mental Health
The Chairman's Blog

The Next Global Pandemic: Mental Health

What if the next global health crisis is a mental health pandemic? It is here now. According to Gallup, anger, stress, worry and sadness have been on the rise globally for the past decade -- long before the COVID-19 pandemic -- and all reached record highs in 2020.


Line graph. The Negative Experience Index, an annual composite index of stress, anger, worry, sadness and physical pain, continued to rise in 2020, hitting a new record of 32.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 41.5% of U.S. adults exhibited symptoms of anxiety or depression in early 2021. Globally, seven in 10 people report that they are struggling or suffering, according to Gallup.

People die from COVID-19 -- they also die from depression and anxiety disorders. The U.S. has seen spikes in deaths from suicide and "deaths of despair."

Deaths of despair -- a new designation made prominent by Princeton economists Anne Case and Nobel laureate Sir Angus Deaton in their book of the same name -- are suicides and deaths caused by fatal behaviors such as drug overdoses and liver failure from chronic alcohol consumption. They have particularly harmed working-class males in the American heartland and increased dramatically since the mid-1990s, from about 65,000 in 1995 to 158,000 in 2018.


Think of deaths of despair as suicide in slow motion.

Anxiety and depression disorders manifest in very different ways than physical illness does. While they can debilitate the individual, anxiety and depression disorders also can debilitate teams, families, schools and all institutions around them.

Think of deaths of despair as suicide in slow motion.

Anxiety and depression can destroy ideas, energy and eventually the economy -- and especially small businesses, which is where almost 50% of us are employed. Yet these aren't taken as seriously as physical wellbeing because we understand physical problems so much better than mental problems.

Mental wellbeing remains a medical blind spot compared with physical wellbeing.

Sheltering during COVID-19; daily fear of job loss; daily fear of a compromised loved one dying from COVID-19; kids at home in "remote school" whose learning is set back while they're also cut off from friends; dramatic changes in how and where work is done -- and the big one, unimaginable anxiety from not knowing what comes next -- all of these create a health injury as or more serious than the virus.

What if pandemic anxiety and depression change the culture of humankind more than COVID-19 has? It is now. It doesn't make the news because the definition and measurement of anxiety and depression have such fuzzy edges compared with the absolute diagnoses of COVID-19 and other diseases.

The world took action against COVID-19 by sheltering, distancing, masking and vaccinating. What action can leadership take to save America and the world from a mental health crisis that is spiking now?

What Leaders Can Do: Awareness and Prevention

Gallup finds the answer lies first within awareness of the crisis -- getting out ahead of it. The big solutions can be found in prevention.

And the second solution: Take immediate action to address, treat, and if possible, reverse the condition once a person is experiencing an anxiety disorder. Mental wellness checkups need to be as socially accepted and routine as getting your blood pressure or glucose levels checked -- or as getting a COVID-19 test.

To take action in the U.S., Gallup has joined forces with Magellan Health to offer what we think is a fast solution for most of the treatment that falls outside of medications. We think we have discovered something that is especially effective for the prevention of depression or anxiety-related disorders: A quick mental wellness test, the results of which help identify ways to embrace a more resilient lifestyle and improve their own current condition. An assessment that identifies where you stand on Gallup's five elements of wellbeing: Career, Social, Financial, Physical and Community -- and on an additional element developed by Magellan: Emotional wellbeing.

Gallup's five wellbeing elements are based on meta-analytics performed across global, in-depth interviews. Mental wellness and resilience lie within Gallup's five elements plus Magellan's Emotional wellbeing.

It is a health exam assessing your general day-to-day wellbeing that you can take just like a physical from the doctor. It is a checkup of your mind -- your wellbeing. And you can do it at home -- it can be taken right on your mobile phone or laptop.

Together, Gallup and Magellan plan to execute the largest ongoing wellbeing study ever -- to assess as many people as possible via health plans, employers, various military and government agencies and third-party administrators. Magellan will then use members' results to deliver personalized solutions to help members thrive in each wellbeing element, and then reassess members to measure improvements.

Our goal is to create a new national awareness of this issue and a solution for individuals, so that the mental health pandemic is taken just as seriously as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more about Gallup's Wellbeing Solutions for the workplace.


Jim Clifton is Chairman of Gallup and bestselling author of Culture Shock, Born to Build, The Coming Jobs War, Wellbeing at Work and the No. 1 Wall Street Journal bestseller It’s the Manager. He is the creator of The Gallup Path, a metric-based economic model that shows the role human nature plays in financial outcomes. This model is used in performance management systems in more than 500 companies worldwide. His most recent innovation, the Gallup World Poll, is designed to give the world’s 7 billion citizens a voice on virtually all key global issues. Under his leadership, Gallup has expanded from a predominantly U.S.-based company to a worldwide organization with 40 offices in 30 countries and regions.

Top 5 CliftonStrengths: Futuristic | Individualization | Competition | Activator | Woo

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