Mental health costs $201 billion in the United States each year but we are not maximizing the value of that investment. Conditions like depression, anxiety and substance-use disorders are prevalent among the U.S. workforce, and the impact to employee performance and employer profitability is significant.

Yet there are many barriers we face when it comes to better supporting employees in their mental health and some of the issues are getting worse, such as:

  • Escalating suicide- and opiate-related death rates

  • Continued stigma and silence around behavioral health conditions in the workplace that cause only one in three people who need help to seek it

  • Lack of consistent and timely access to network clinicians and personalized treatment for employees

  • Inconsistent use of measurement-based care for mental illness among primary care physicians and even mental health specialists.

We are facing cultural and systemic problems that are keeping employees from being at their best when it comes to their health and performance.

Mental Health Parity is the law but we are far from parity in practice.

Turning the tide

To improve our system of support for mental health, we recommend employers improve access to high-value care. This can be accomplished by ensuring affordable access to quality networks and personalized treatment; promoting and reimbursing for integrated behavioral health in primary care settings; and offering behavioral health extenders such as telehealth and other technology-based support.

Employers should also aim to advance employee health, quality and performance by implementing early identification and intervention; measuring behavioral health practices with accountability metrics; developing policies that support an appropriate pathway to recovery; and integrating employee assistance plans into a broader employer total health and well-being strategy. Finally, employers can change the environment by stressing the impact of mental health on workplace performance and physical health; implementing strategies to break the silence and mitigate stigma; building organizational skills related to resilience, mindfulness and readiness; and developing a high-performing culture that mitigates chronic stress and other risk factors.

There should be nothing keeping people from effectively dealing with their emotional health in the same way as their physical health. Leading employers are already making a difference for their employees and their families. Not only is parity the law, but improved performance and access is just good business.