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Mental Health Has Ripple Effects That Far Exceed Mental Health

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Thomas Parry

Ph.D., President, Integrated Benefits Institute

Mental health is a key component of employee wellbeing and an employee’s ability to show up for work and perform at high levels. Unfortunately, almost 20 percent of the U.S. workforce suffers from some form of mental illness, and yet our data show that two-thirds of these employees never seek treatment. To make matters worse, the problem is underreported, and employees face numerous barriers to receive the care they need. 

An ounce of prevention

While focusing only on medical costs associated with treating mental health, employers tend to underestimate the impact of these health conditions on their companies. For example, for every dollar spent on medical care for mental health, employers also pay 45 cents in absence costs (sick leave, short- and long-term disability, etc.).

From a human capital perspective—simply measured by wages and benefits—employers’ costs rise to 82 cents on the dollar. Finally, the financial impact of reduced performance at work from mental health conditions reaches nearly $60,000 per 1,000 employees.

Action needed, now

Employers must address these issues in care if they want to attract, retain, and support their employees so that their businesses may remain competitive in the global marketplace. To that point, mental health is bigger than mental health alone, as it requires connecting behavioral health, proper care, and outcomes for both the employee and the employer.

Given the scope of the issue, there are many practical solutions that employers should consider in addressing the problem, including:

  • Remove the stigma by connecting people to care and making it socially acceptable to address behavioral health in the organization. 
  • Make it easier to access care by increasing the number of visits covered in an employee assistance program and using technology such as access to online virtual care.
  • Encourage mindfulness and stress reduction opportunities by creating meditation rooms or access to walking trails.
  • Integrate behavioral health care into primary care so that primary care physicians are trained to identify patients in need of mental health services, so that they may initiate treatment with a behavioral health care manager. 
  • Remove cost barriers to care by significantly reducing copays and deductibles for access to in-network behavioral health specialists.
  • Rename your employee assistance program (EAP). Many employers have found that their workers are hesitant to engage with their EAP for fear of repercussions and stigma. Renaming the resource to a more engaging and user-friendly service such as “Benefits Concierge” has shown to increase participation.
  • Break down silos to improve sharing of workers’ compensation, disability, and medical claims data to identify employees with mental illness and direct them to appropriate treatment.
  • Develop better tools for measuring the return on investments in behavioral health care to obtain buy-in from senior management.

Improving the mental health of our workforce requires all stakeholders—employers, health plans, and health care providers—work closely together to take a uniform approach to physical and behavioral health care. After all, the mind and the body are irrefutably connected.

Thomas Parry, Ph.D., President, Integrated Benefits Institute, [email protected]

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