A Challenge to the Health Care Industry: Be Better on Mental Health

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Unrecognizable man comforts woman during a support group or group therapy meeting. His hand is on her shoulder.

Nearly 60% of respondents in a recent survey had experienced concerns about either their own mental health or the mental health of family and friends.(GETTY STOCK IMAGES)

The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on the mental health crisis we are facing in this country and forced us to prioritize the inclusion of mental health as a key component of holistic health care. Thankfully, the stigma associated with mental health issues is finally starting to erode, as the prevailing attitude now is that it’s “OK to not be OK.”


Normalizing the conversation around mental health is critical when you consider that more than 50 million Americans already live with a known mental health issue, yet far too few receive the help they need. In addition, more than 120 million Americans – over a third of the country – live in places where there is a shortage of mental health providers. May is Mental Health Awareness Month – a good time to take stock of where we are in addressing the country’s profound gaps.

Recently, CVS Health and Morning Consult conducted our fifth survey since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to take a pulse on how Americans are feeling about mental health. It was heartening to see some positive trends emerge. In fact, 56% of respondents agreed society has become more comfortable engaging in mental health discussions. Here are some of the other key findings:

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  • More Americans have concerns about their own mental health or the mental health of a friend or family member. Nearly 60% of respondents have experienced concerns about either their own mental health or the mental health of family and friends.
  • Technology can help people address their mental health. 63% and 58% of respondents agreed that society is more comfortable engaging in telemedicine for therapy and using digital tools to boost mental health, respectively.
  • Workplaces need to foster the right culture regarding mental health. While 74% of employed adults agreed that employers should offer their employees resources and access to mental health services, only 35% of employed adults felt comfortable discussing mental health with a colleague.

These statistics are a call to action and inform our efforts in the health care industry. I’m optimistic that health care leaders can empower Americans to stop viewing mental health as separate from physical health, and instead see them as one and the same. It is our responsibility to drive systemic improvements and help people understand and manage their whole health.
As the head of Aetna, a CVS Health company, I have the privilege of leading more than 43,000 colleagues in serving the health care needs of 24.5 million members. Making sure mental health care and awareness is on par with physical health care is a professional and personal imperative. I see three distinct areas where we must actively engage:

  1. Continue to expand easy and convenient access to mental health care.
    Access is a key determinant in who does and does not receive mental health care, so it is essential to ensure our teams are identifying and supporting quality providers and offering the resources necessary to meet diverse consumer needs. This is why I am proud that the CVS Health Foundation is supporting the National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics in its work to increase the number of licensed mental health clinicians providing services to the underserved.

    Further, by providing options for on-site care, telemedicine or a hybrid approach, we are working to ensure our members can easily access the quality care they need. Aetna has seen a thousandfold increase in telehealth visits compared with pre-pandemic levels: In 2019, we supported 10,000 virtual mental health visits, but last year – incredibly – that number was more than 10 million

    We must continue to expand mental health care options that encourage people to get the help they need when and where they need it and in a format in which they are comfortable.

  2. Encourage open dialogue with customers about the importance of addressing mental health.
    When I consider my customer conversations over the past two years, it’s been rare that they have not included the topic of mental health. This dialogue is fundamental to ensuring we are building benefits packages or other offerings that reflect mental health as a core component of holistic health. 

    Insisting that we address the concerns that have come to the forefront over the past few years is paramount to building healthy and productive workforces. Marketing materials, reference guides, mental health resource sites, dedicated guidance – such as suicide prevention materials – and even resources like this article or our survey results will be tools to further the conversation.

  3. Create a workplace culture that recognizes and values mental health support.
    Employees are managing significant stress from a working environment that continues to evolve. Jobs are increasingly mobile and remote – especially following the pandemic. But while the flexibility can have benefits, it also means there are new challenges, with the line between professional and personal time blurred, back-to-back video calls, no defined start or stop time, decreased in-person interaction and more isolation. It is incumbent upon companies to acknowledge these stressors and provide their employees with mental health tools and resources to help. 

    Empowering people to take control of their mental health and take time for themselves allows them to bring their best selves to work. At CVS Health, we’re working to build a culture that creates the right work environment for colleagues, prioritizing mental well-being with an emphasis on open dialogue and a welcoming and judgment-free environment. Among our resources, one of our first steps was to launch the Thrive app to all employees, contractors and their families to help improve focus, strengthen connections with others and improve overall well-being. As executives, if we can lead by example, we will help to instill a culture that normalizes and encourages the discussion of mental health in the workplace.



There is good news in our survey and in other studies. While Americans are increasingly concerned about mental health, they also are increasingly comfortable in having the conversations that ultimately lead to getting treatment. Our role in the health care industry is to make sure this continues, and that resources and treatments are readily available for those who need them. Ultimately, seeking treatment for stress or depression, or getting help for a family member with anxiety or any of the other myriad mental health issues people suffer from, should be as commonplace as getting your annual physical, a flu shot or treatment for a broken bone.


At CVS Health and Aetna, we’re working hard to expand mental health care access, create holistic care solutions that customers demand, and build a culture of support and acceptance that eliminates any stigma associated with seeking help for mental health. I call upon my fellow leaders across the health care industry to join us and help ensure health care is truly comprehensive and holistic. Mental health, after all, is key to overall health.



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