Healthy Minds: The Next Big ESG Issue?

By Nicsa Admin posted 04-25-2022 09:35 AM


Healthy Minds: The Next Big ESG Issue?

Replay Session

Moderator Marty Griffin, Vice President Operations, Northeast Retirement Services, kicked off the last session of Nicsa’s 2022 SLF with a quote from Blackrock CEO Larry Fink:


“In addition to upending our relationship with where we physically work, the pandemic also shone a light on issues like racial equity, childcare, and mental health … these themes are now center stage for CEOs, who must be thoughtful about how they use their voice and connect on social issues important to their employees.”


Panelists dug deeper into mental health and well-being in the asset management industry during the general session, which featured experts from Project Healthy Minds and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.


Even before the pandemic, 615 million people worldwide were diagnosed with a mental health condition, including 63 million Americans, said Phil Schermer, Founder and CEO of Project Healthy Minds, which is building the world's first digital mental health marketplace to democratize access to life-changing services.


“That is four times the number of people diagnosed with cancer in America,” Schermer said. “And 60% of people with a mental health condition, both in the U.S. and around the world,

never get any form of treatment.”


Schermer said that during the pandemic, depression rates in the U.S. increase by 300%.


“The pandemic forced everybody to see an issue that had been previously too easy to overlook,” he said. “We are in the beginning stages of a much greater focus on the part of management teams, boards, and employees on how we manage our mental health, especially as we move into this new phase.”


Sabastian V. Niles, Partner, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, said that mental health has been a

defining issue for every single generation. “It is just an issue that has been grappled with by individual human beings individually, or in their families, or in darkness or in shame,” he said.


“What is new is leaders in our society — such as a CEO and board chair of a major institution, as Mr. Fink is, declaring unequivocally that mental health is a leadership priority; that it is an organizational priority,” Niles said. “That in a big way is part of the change.”


Citing a national survey conducted by Project Healthy Minds, Schermer said 86% of people under 35 said that mental health was as important or more important to them than their physical health.


“Over the last 15 years, we have gotten used to ping-pong tables and snacks as the benefits that young people want,” he said. “I think those are out and mental health is in. The fundamental question is, what will companies do about it to meet the moment?”


What Firms Can Do


Schermer said that for nearly 85 years, companies have relied on Employee Assistance

Programs (EAPs) and outsourced hotline to “check the box” for mental health services.


“The problem is, utilization rates of EAP in the United States are between 3 percent to 5 percent,” he said. “You think about the relationship between the corporation and the

worker on an issue like retirement planning, and there is a very well-known playbook …

there is no playbook in the United States, or anywhere around the world, on what

companies should be doing to support mental health.”


That’s why Schermer started Project Healthy Minds.


“There should common definitions for what companies do, how they measure employee mental health, and what they disclose to the market,” he said. “You have to go beyond benefits and take a holistic look at the workplace.”


Niles said companies can choose to place workplace mental health that at the top of the corporate agenda. He pointed to one investment group in the UK that is positioning mental health as an investor engagement priority. The group created the following mental health benchmarks to assess companies:


  • Does the company have a mental health at work plan?
  • Does the company promote mental health awareness across employers and contractors?
  • Does the company integrate mental health safeguarding in promotion and job design?
  • Does the company integrate mental health safeguarding into workplace conditions?
  • Does the company train managers on mental health?
  • Does the company monitor and report on employee mental health and well-being?


“As we have a broader sense of responsibility and accountability around these

topics, I hope to see positive innovation,” Niles said. “I think legal issues, privacy issues, confidentiality — those are all legitimate topics, but the way to work through it is to work the problem.”


May contain forward-looking statements subject to various uncertainties. Personal views and observations of individuals contained herein are as of the date of the live event or written material and do not necessarily reflect the views of Nicsa or its member organizations. Nothing herein is intended to be or should be construed as legal advice. Contact your own counsel in order to obtain legal advice regarding these or any other matters. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a recommendation of best practices.