With its long-held commitment to mental health, CVS Health was ready to take on the pandemic’s challenges

For some companies, the abrupt onset of the global pandemic in March 2020, and the resulting rise in mental health challenges, caught them unprepared. Suddenly, they were faced with increasing numbers of employees struggling to deal with a deadly, unknown virus that instantly turned their world upside down—forcing them to quickly invest in and augment their mental health programs.

While the situation was unprecedented, CVS Health felt ready to meet surging demand: “CVS Health was always very focused on mental health,” said Lauri Tenney, Senior Director of Benefits, Health and Welfare. The company understood that employees who are both physically and mentally healthy are critical for a thriving business. “We realized that when employees come to work, they don’t leave their troubles in the car,” explained Tenney. “If they’re not operating at the level that they can be or should be, then the company is not going to be operating at its highest level either.” 

Before the pandemic, CVS Health had implemented a wide variety of programs to ensure all employees had access to mental health care—from digital therapeutics to an employee assistance program (EAP). “As the pandemic emerged, we were in a good position to support our people,” noted Tenney.

Increasing access to mental health care through digital therapeutics

Still, as prepared as the company was, leaders knew they were dealing with a worsening mental health crisis as the pandemic endured. Employees were stressed about everything from securing childcare to contracting the virus. And because the company’s approximately 300,000 employees have different work situations—from home, in retail stores, in distribution centers—they needed to support employees enduring a variety of mental health challenges.

Tenney noted that because of the widespread dearth of qualified mental health providers, ensuring access to care was a serious issue. That gap in access is one of the reasons why CVS Health turned to digital therapeutics as a centerpiece of its mental health offerings. For example, Sleepio and Daylight are available 24/7, whenever or wherever people are in need of sleep or worry and anxiety support. “Because of the way [digital therapeutics] are delivered, they can break through some of the access barriers,” said Tenney. “Currently, the majority of our population is millennials, so these products are more appealing considering the way they interact with the world.”

The “magic formula” for engagement

CVS Health chose Sleepio and Daylight because of the extensive clinical evidence demonstrating their safety and efficacy. “The research was key,” said Tenney. “It demonstrated that these programs work and was a huge driving force behind why we rolled them out.” But she acknowledged that getting employees to actually use them was a whole other problem. “Engagement is always a challenge,” Tenney explained. “People have to change their lifestyle. That’s a big ask. It’s finding that magic formula to get people to do it.”

For CVS Health, part of that “magic formula” is providing incentives, such as putting money into health savings accounts when employees enroll in Sleepio or Daylight. Another part of the formula is engaging communication campaigns. The company recently sent a mailer describing Daylight to employees’ homes, resulting in a significant increase in visits to the website and actual enrollments. Tenney noted the importance of simply letting employees know what’s out there. “We have many resources available, and sometimes being able to find them can be a challenge,” she said.

Addressing stigma is critical

Another reason Sleepio and Daylight were so appealing to CVS Health was the way they work to de-stigmatize mental health challenges. “Research shows that having good sleep can help reduce anxiety,” said Tenney. “Being able to talk about sleep is a way folks can address anxiety in a de-stigmatized way.” And because these products can be accessed anywhere and anytime, without needing to talk to a healthcare provider, people can ease into the process of improving their mental health without worrying about the judgement of others.

Stamp Out Stigma campaign

But digital therapeutics were only part of CVS Health’s Stamp Out Stigma campaign. The program was launched by the company’s CEO at a town hall meeting, where pledge cards were distributed so employees could commit to helping reduce the stigma of poor mental health and then post the cards outside their offices, cubicles, or lockers. Employees were also encouraged to post stories about their personal experiences with mental health on the company intranet, which led to many sharing personal, poignant stories about difficult subjects such as suicide, substance abuse, and mental health conditions. “We created an open environment where people can speak freely and openly about these challenges,” said Tenney.

“Sharing stories, especially the really personal, sometimes heartbreaking ones about their own personal struggles helped colleagues feel more engaged and feel like the company really does care about them and their struggles,” explained Tenney. “I feel good to be a part of a company that takes this very seriously and is willing to invest in these resources to help employees and their families. We’ve fostered an environment that says: ‘We realize everyone has struggles and we’re willing to help you through them.’”


We are humbled and honored to work alongside innovative benefits and HR leaders such as Lauri Tenney and support CVS Health employees. To hear from other thought leaders and learn how to help your employees back to good mental health, be sure to subscribe to our blog.

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