‘Time now to address this crisis’: Why CEOs must make mental health a priority during the pandemic

July 7, 2020, 10:19 PM UTC

Karen Lynch, executive vice president at CVS Health and president of Aetna, opened up Tuesday to attendees at Fortune’s digital Brainstorm Health conference about losing her mom to suicide when she was 12 years old, describing how that has made her “incredibly vocal” on the topic.

Today, at the helm of a major U.S. health-care insurer, Lynch is seeing firsthand increases in the number of patients with psychological disorders as the fear and isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic have taken their toll on millions of Americans’ mental health.

But Lynch says that now, unlike in the past, the C-suite is taking notice.

“If there is any silver lining to this pandemic, it has put mental health on the map,” Lynch said. “For the first time in a very long time, as I’ve been talking to CEOs and in boardrooms, everyone is talking about the impact of the pandemic on mental health…it’s the time now to address this crisis in front of us.”

Lynch was joined in discussion by Dr. Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in a panel moderated by Arianna Huffington, co-chair of the conference and the founder and CEO of Thrive Global.

“The data that concerns me the most right now is what we know from responses to previous disasters,” Gordon said. “We know that only half of the people who need help will actually get it.” Gordon said he’d like to see medical providers and companies help make sure Americans are getting the mental-health care they need.

How can employers and medical providers help? Gordon points to the recent success of mental health hotlines and telemental health care, which is “helping to reach people that were previously hard to reach.”

Lynch suggest creating an environment where employees are comfortable speaking up and sharing their mental health experiences—behavior she modeled on Tuesday in speaking about her mother.

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