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Why Employers Must Focus on Improving Workplace Mental Health - 3 Strategies to Support Employees

Oct 20
Mental Health image by Total Shape by Pixabay
Mental Health image by Total Shape by Pixabay

BY CYNTHIA MCGRATH | October 21, 2021

Cynthia McGrath

The Mental Health Crisis and Its Effects on Employees and Employers

The pandemic has upended lives and led to increased rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Seventy-six percent of U.S. employees surveyed report at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year according to Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work Report. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data suggests that the mental health of younger people and minorities has been especially impacted.

Mental health affects employers’ ability to retain employees. Fifty percent of employees left their jobs for mental health reasons in 2020, including those caused by workplace factors like overwhelming and unsustainable work (Mind Share Partners’ report). These numbers are higher for younger workers, LGBTQ+, Black, and Latinx employees. Sixty-eight percent of Millennials and 81% of Gen Zers left roles for mental health reasons.

Employees and the employers that cover them pay more for patients with mental health. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, average out-of-pocket spending for adults with mental illness enrolled in large employer health plans is higher than average out-of-pocket spending for adult enrollees without mental illness ($1,347 vs. $671).

edHEALTH member school mental health costs for the most common diagnoses have increased significantly on a per-enrollee and aggregate basis.

Cost per enrolled member for most common mental health diagnoses

3 Strategies to Support Employees’ Mental Health Needs

1) Offer Robust Mental Health Benefits: All edHEALTH plans include comprehensive behavioral health and substance use disorder benefits that align with medical benefits. Employees can find a participating provider on the carrier’s app, website, and by phone. Note that like all benefit programs, finding therapists with open appointments can be difficult due to the increased demand. Ask your primary care provider for recommendations, say “yes” to joining a therapist’s wait list, and consider group therapy to increase your options.

edHEALTH plans also offer telehealth access to licensed therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists with a PCP copay or deductible charge. We provide member schools convenient employee communications to promote these benefits. Our data shows that employees are taking advantage of this convenient method of accessing care for short-term needs.

Telehealth mental health visits 2019-2021

2) Cultivate a Work Culture That Supports Employees: Employees who feel supported by their employer are less likely to experience mental health symptoms, less likely to underperform and miss work, and more likely to feel comfortable talking about their mental health at work (Mind Share Partners’ report). They also have higher job satisfaction, more positive views of their company, and an increased intention to stay at their company.

A recent Harvard Business Review article recommends that companies focus on how to improve workflow and work-life balance. Other recommendations include improving communication and collaboration. Prioritizing employees’ mental health is also key. Ninety-one percent of those surveyed believe that a company’s culture should support mental health.

3) Consider offering digital point solutions and mental health apps to complement wellbeing programs: As we reported last year, some providers don’t accept insurance due to low contracted reimbursement rates. A 2019 Milliman Study found that patients were 5.1 times more likely to go out of network for inpatient mental health care compared to medical care, and 4.8 to 5.9 times more likely to use out of network care for outpatient mental health needs compared to primary care visits.

To help employees access mental health providers, many employers are supplementing traditional mental health benefits with digital options. According to a recent Business Group on Health study, 88% of employers are offering virtual mental health care for their workforce. Digital point solutions can complement traditional mental health benefits by increasing access to ongoing provider support via phone, video, and text. In 2021, edHEALTH evaluated several digital mental health point solutions at the request of our members.

Wellness programming that encourages regular exercise, a good night’s sleep, and eating healthily helps support employee overall wellbeing. Some employers include self-help apps as part of their suite of programs. Although these are not as effective as therapy and medication for treating mental illness, they can help some people better cope with stress and symptoms related to anxiety or depression, according to a July Harvard Business Review article co-authored by John Torous, MD, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Division of Digital Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Elena Rodriguez-Villa, global research lead at the Division of Digital Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. The authors recommend that employers select apps supported by licensed clinicians and refer to a free online resource, supported by an Argosy Foundation grant, to determine which app best meets an employer’s particular needs.

Cynthia (Cindy) McGrath is edHEALTH's Marketing Communications Strategist.

Image by Total Shape from Pixabay

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