Although society has made significant strides to remove the negative association from mental health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that eight out of ten people suffering from mental illness will not seek treatment due to feelings of shame and the stigma surrounding mental health challenges. The impact on business manifests itself in absenteeism, poor performance, low morale, and additional healthcare costs during that time. Mental illness causes individuals to miss more workdays than any other chronic condition, resulting in an estimated $210.5 billion per year in costs to U.S. employers from depression alone.

Unsurprisingly, these challenges have only been magnified by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As the workforce reckons with the type of environment and culture they wish to return to, there is no better time to ensure you have the appropriate resources to support your employees. According to the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, “80 percent of employees treated for mental illness report improved levels of work efficacy and satisfaction.”

In essence, a mentally healthy workforce is linked to lower medical costs and less absenteeism.

Evaluating Current Mental Health Benefits

Evaluate your current mental health plan design to ensure it is sufficient for employee care and to identify barriers to care. Some questions to consider asking insurers:

  • Do they offer accessible mental health information through employee educational programs, their website, or self-screening tools?
  • Do they have a toll-free number for your employees to call for help with personal, family, or work issues?
  • Are there available in-network providers trained to screen for mental illness and treat depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders?
  • Can they integrate their services with your EAP, disease management, and disability benefits? Integration results in better coordination of care for employees and can save employers time, effort, and money.
  • Can employees easily afford needed medication through your pharmaceutical benefits?
  • Are there opportunities to reduce or remove co-pays for in-network therapy visits on the health plan? Are there opportunities to pay out-of-network services (therapy, in-patient treatment, etc.) at in-network rates?
  • Are there opportunities to ensure network adequacy?
  • Are there opportunities to expand tele-mental health options?
  • Could a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) be leveraged to support reducing costs associated with mental health?

To support a mentally healthy workforce, employers should build a culture that is as stigma-free as possible, encouraging people to seek help rather than hide their stress and pain.

How Can Employers Effectively Address Stigma?

  1. Start the Conversation—You are not alone.
    a. As was previously outlined, mental health issues are prevalent, but they can be isolating. Consider sharing these five fast facts from Workplace Mental Health with your workforce to start the conversation.
    b. Bring in speakers and educators on the topic of mental health to allow employees to hear directly from others who experienced mental health conditions and went on to navigate the workplace successfully. NAMI is a great resource to find local speakers.
  2. Demonstrate Organizational Support.
    a. Develop a strategic, thoughtful communication campaign to raise awareness and encourage employees to engage in help. Engage organizational leaders in tailored communications and messages of support and/or personal experience where possible.
    b. Provide training to managers and leaders within the organization. Training strengthens managers’ confidence and skill to address and direct employees to the right resources at the right time. Examples of training resources include:
    i. Employee Assistance Program Manager Trainings
    ii. Notice. Talk. Act. At Work (NTA at work) https://workplacementalhealth.org/employer-resources/notice-talk-act-at-work
    iii. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/
    c. Create a centralized location to house all resources and details on benefits and resources available to employees, accessible onsite and off. For example, we provide our clients access to a customizable benefits app that allows employees to access mental health and well-being benefit information and tools anytime, anywhere.
    d. Ensure employees have on-site access to space for quiet reflection or meditation. By designing a physical space in your workplace to promote mental health, you are sending the message your organization truly supports taking the time for self-care.
    e. Review company culture and practice around meeting scheduling, after-hours and weekend communications, use of paid time off, etc., and address areas for needed improvement.
  1. Develop supportive foundational policies and directives.
    a. Design and deploy flexible work and telecommuting policies, where appropriate for job responsibilities.
    b. Implement Mental Health Days or similar paid time benefits for mental health care.
  2. Focus efforts beyond anxiety and depression alone. Visit the Center for Workplace Mental Health for tips on ways employers can promote resiliency within the workforce, promote self-care, and address isolation and loneliness. Employers can also provide benefits for financial services (e.g., short-term loans, debt reduction, etc.) and caregiver and childcare services and support.
  3. Inventory vendor resources and promote, enhance, or replace, as appropriate to ensure employees have access to no-cost/low-cost therapy, cognitive behavioral programs, or similar across the spectrum of emotional well-being.

There is no better time to recommit to positively addressing the culture of mental health in your organization by destigmatizing challenges associated with it and creating healthy dialogue. For more information on developing a responsive employee benefits program to address the mental health needs of your organization contact us today.