There is little doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the mental well-being of many Americans. In addition to dealing with fear of the virus and social isolation, economic pressures have continued to grow. Many who have continued to work have been forced to balance working remotely with caring for children who would normally be in school.
A survey by telemedicine giant Teladoc recently showed that nearly half of American workers say their mental health has been negatively impacted. The more disturbing statistic is that only 27% say their employers are taking steps to provide help.
What Others are Doing
While larger employers have long made employee assistance programs available to those in need, the expansion of telemedicine has enabled employers of all sizes to provide access to behavioral health professionals. These appointments traditionally were held by phone, but many are now conducted by video using computers or smart phones.
As the pandemic has continued, onsite employers’ clinics have shown a significant increase in mental health and stress-related cases. Some health systems have placed mental health providers inside workplaces to provide quicker access to treatment. For more information or to strengthen your health plan in this critical area, contact your account representative today. systems have placed mental health providers inside workplaces to provide quicker access to treatment. For more information or to strengthen your health plan in this critical area, contact your account representative today.
Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults live with a mental illness. Since it has become virtually impossible to avoid a condition at work, here are some of the factors involved. First, professionals tell us that multiple cycles can impact health and productivity in different ways. Conditions can trigger at any time and while early symptoms can be mild, a supportive work environment is critical. Symptoms often increase during later phases, causing work performance to suffer. Mental health benefits and disability insurance will come into play as everyone works together to help the employee remain at work or return to work as soon as possible. Symptoms can become severe during advanced phases, making a disability leave, family leave or access to an EAP or in-network providers likely.
Because fewer than half the people who need help ever receive treatment, meeting the issue of mental health head on is very important. Having a general conversation or town hall about behavioral health can go a long way in creating a safe, healthy, supportive environment.
As more workers struggle with stress in and out of the workplace, some are requesting time off in order to cope. This is not a problem for companies with sick-day policies that allow employees to use their paid personal days for any reason. In other workplaces, people who are honest about asking for a mental health day can sometimes be looked upon as suffering from a mental health issue. Regardless of how your organization may handle these issues, it is important to respect employees’ right to privacy and avoid probing for sensitive information about a person’s well-being.
With behavioral health conditions impacting one in five Americans, it’s no wonder we’re seeing more employers search for ways to provide members with better access to behavioral healthcare benefits.
Statistics show that many employees, including some that are insured, fail to get the mental healthcare they need. Because self-funded health plans provide plan design flexibility, some plans are taking bold steps to address this growing need. While many are using telemedicine to improve access and lower costs, some employers are treating out-of-network behavioral health treatment as in-network, enabling employees to pay the same amount for treatment regardless of which provider they use. Others are covering out-of-network behavioral healthcare services even when their plan doesn’t cover out-of-network services for other types of care.
When you consider that mental illness has become the greatest cause of disability claims in the U.S., it is not surprising that employers are looking for ways to help employees obtain the care they need.
Significant Action is Warranted
There is plenty of research to show that Americans are not getting the mental healthcare they need. According to Mental Health America, despite having health insurance, 56.5% of adults with mental illness received no treatment in the past year.
Another problem is that behavioral health treatments are rarely classified as primary care, and are regarded instead as specialty treatment. This makes people find an in-network provider, go out-of-network, pay higher out-of-pocket costs or avoid treatment altogether. Claims data from Collective Health shows that more than 40% of the 2017 behavioral health spend was out-of-network, which is many times the amount spent on primary or preventative care.
While awareness of mental health concerns in the workplace is increasing, studies repeatedly show that not enough employees feel comfortable utilizing mental health benefits. Furthermore, many employees are often unaware mental health benefits are even available. With more than 40 million Americans living with depression, it’s more important than ever to make sure the workplace is taking positive steps to address it. Here are positive steps your company can take:
Take a holistic approach. Addressing the many areas of wellness, including physical, financial and mental, equally can help employees feel safe enough to seek treatment through employer provided healthcare plans. Stigma is still a major barrier to access, but employers can encourage accessing treatment by putting the necessary emphasis on mental health and wellness. Providing an open space for conversation, information and support can increase overall employee mental wellness. And of course, extending benefits to all family members can prove extremely valuable.
Keep employees informed. Though your company may have excellent programs and benefits to address mental illness and depression, it’s possible that your employees are unaware of how to access them. When bringing the discussion of mental wellness into the public space it’s important that the tools and avenues to accessing help are made very clear.
Promote flexibility. Certain industries deal with more critical situations, such as safety concerns, fatigue or a high risk of injury. While there is no “off the shelf” solution to mental wellness, employers can play a major role in bringing mental health out in the open. And today more than ever, a company is only as healthy as its employees.