Making Mental Health More Accessible Benefits Employers and Employees

Mental health plays a central role in our overall health and wellbeing. It affects the decisions we make and impacts how we show up at home, in social settings, and even at work. So, when an employee or someone in their home begins to experience mental health challenges, they benefit from knowing their employer genuinely cares about their mental, not just physical, health and wellbeing.

Yet historically, employers and even the government have not held mental health at the same status as physical health. Evidence of that is plentiful, including that in 2020 there remained no dedicated mental health category for Schedule A federal reporting that self-funded employers must perform. Those services most often fall under the “Health (other than dental or vision)” bucket, while dental and vision each have their own categories. If our teeth and eyes can receive special attention, shouldn’t our minds?

As we enter “The Great Resignation” fueled by pandemic stress, self-funded employers are in a unique position to recognize their employees’ mental health needs, differentiate themselves, and improve their businesses by investing in practical, accessible mental health treatments for their teams. It’s not just good for business; it’s the right thing to do.

The impact of the mental health crisis on employees and their families

We are a nation living in a behavioral health crisis. Each year nearly 25% of adults suffer from a diagnosable behavioral health condition such as depression or substance abuse, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Though cases were on the rise before 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the issue to the forefront. An August 2020 survey by the CDC revealed 40% of adults reported they had struggled with behavioral health or substance use in the previous 30 days. Sadly, the growing number of mental health challenges is expected to linger post-pandemic.

For employers, this means a significant number of employees, or their dependents, will experience challenges. Perhaps they already are. And when an employee is struggling with their mental health, it negatively affects their performance, productivity, engagement, hindering them from bringing their best self to work. The issue is only magnified if employees feel their employers aren’t prepared to help.

The costs of mental health in the workplace

Uncared for behavioral health conditions affect, first and foremost, the individual suffering. And their individual challenges have a financial impact on their employer too. One study of Quest Diagnostics revealed that in the course of a year, the six most common mental health conditions cost the company $12 million, their largest health cost by far compared to other physical conditions, largely for inpatient stays and emergency visits. This means that for the nearly 6,000 employees that visited a care facility, their mental states deteriorated to the point that emergency treatment was necessary. But the costs of these employees’ struggles started to tally long before they sought treatment.

Just looking at depression alone, employers lose 200 million workdays each year at a staggering cost of $17 to $44 billion. At a more granular level, the average employee suffering from depression misses nearly five workdays and experiences 11.5 days of reduced productivity in a three-month period.

Extrapolate that to a full year, across a large workforce, across multiple mental health conditions, and it’s clear that the impact is profound.

As behavioral health needs spike, every employer has both the responsibility and the power to provide the support their teams desperately need.

Utilizing virtual mental health care options

Empowering employees to care for their mental health can recoup some of the losses that come along with prevalent mental illness. But it can also be a differentiator for employers to help attract, engage, and retain talent, particularly in today’s tumultuous environment. Recent reports reveal that 40% of employees are considering changing jobs in 2021, and 25% are actively planning a change. The greener pastures that employees are in search of are better pay, richer benefits, and better work-life balance.

These desires indicate that employees are stressed and looking for employers to support their wellbeing, not just their work product. Fortunately, employers are acting and investing in corporate wellness programs, which include mental health benefits, to care for their teams. In fact, 53% of employers surveyed by the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions said they are now offering special emotional and mental health programs in response to the pandemic.

As workspaces become more remote, there’s an opportunity for employers to increase access to in-network mental health services through telehealth. Telebehavioral health care frees employees to connect with specialists who can evaluate, diagnose, and treat behavioral health disorders from anywhere without the need to take time off from work to fit into tight appointment windows, travel long distances for appointments, or arrange for childcare. So, they can work from home and also receive care from home too. Plus, with in-network providers that offer specialized care, employers can open the door to scarce resources, such as child and adolescent psychiatry, for employees and their dependents.

Employers have the resources at the ready to help employees through these tough times and help their organizations stand out as employees seek better situations. All they have to do is implement the right benefits and educate employees on their options to begin the path to better wellbeing.

By adopting high-quality, telebehavioral health care, employers can protect the emotional wellbeing of those who are suffering, and in turn, increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, and build a more positive workplace culture. Telebehavioral care is not only good for employees and businesses; it’s a vital approach to address and start resolving America’s mental health crisis.

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If you are in crisis, call 988 to talk with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, text HOME to 741741 to connect to a free crisis counselor, or go to your nearest emergency room.