We’re about halfway through Mental Health Awareness Month. Seeing as how employers provide health insurance to about half of American adults, we think it’s important for employers to think about their own role in the mental and behavioral health of their employees.
With so much of our time and energy being poured into our work every week, employers have a great opportunity to remind employees “You are not alone.”
Current State of Workplace Mental Health
Overall, about one in five adults will experience a diagnosable mental illness in any given year. And of those one in five, over half will go untreated. We need to take a serious approach to respecting, identifying, and treating mental illness just as we do any other medical condition in order to create a more thoughtful and effective workplace.
Adult anxiety disorders have been on the rise, especially amongst younger workers and especially among young women. This is expanded upon in research by PwC which found a huge gap between how leaders think they’re performing and what employees think.
84 percent of CFOs believe they are successfully supporting employee well-being including mental health and morale during the pandemic, while only 31 percent of employees agree. This falls even more for younger female employees, with agreement from only 22 percent of women aged 35 to 44 and 26 percent of women aged 18 to 34.
And here’s the reality of that dissatisfaction: employees aren’t going to their employer, their boss, and their HR team asking for new mental health resources. They’re just going to go on being stressed and burned out, so it’s up to HR and management to recognize this and bring solutions to their workforces.
While treatments did fall at the beginning of the pandemic, like most utilization, that has now reversed and risen back to near-normal levels. The dip was mostly seen among low-cost care, which may seem like good news at first blush. However, many mild mental health symptoms go untreated and can worsen to more severe symptoms, meaning early detection and prevention are key in mental health, just like other areas of our health. According to Lyra, there is on average 10 years between the onset of symptoms and treatment.
Unfortunately, the treatment that is delivered is not evenly distributed. The gender gap in treatment has been increasing, with women receiving now about 50% more mental health care than men.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2020 Employer Health Benefits Survey, only about one in five employers offering health benefits are very satisfied with the availability of mental health providers in their networks. Employers should take note of the inadequate resources usually offered to employees. One in five employees have a mental health condition and the existence of a mental health condition just about doubles the total health care costs for those employees.
And about 80 percent of all people who die by suicide are of working age (between 18 and 65), meaning the workplace is the most cross-cutting area for suicide prevention, intervention, and crisis response, not to mention other areas of mental and behavioral health such as depression, burnout, stress, and anxiety.
Good News for Workplace Mental Health
Despite these sobering facts, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future of behavioral and mental health in our offices.
Employers are increasingly picking up the mantle to lead when it comes to mental and behavioral health.
Over 80 percent of employees who are treated for mental illness report improved levels of work efficacy and satisfaction.
And treatment is cost-effective. When an employee receives effective behavioral and mental illness treatment, total medical costs are lower, productivity increases, absenteeism falls, and disability costs shrink.
It’s good business to invest in a mentally healthy workforce.
Recommended Practices for Workplace Mental and Behavioral Health
Workplace Suicide Prevention recommends 9 practices to foster mental and behavioral health in the workplace. These include:
Leadership: Cultivate a caring culture focused on community well-being. Leaders go first, and lead by example.
Job Strain Reduction: Assess and address job strain and toxic work conditions.
Communication: Increase awareness of understanding suicide and reduce fear of people exhibiting symptoms of mental illness or suicidal people.
Self-Care Orientation: Plan and provide for self-screening and stress/crisis inoculation.
Training: Improve overall mental illness literacy throughout the organization. Build a stratified suicide prevention response program with specialized training by role.
Peer Support & Well-Being Ambassadors: Launch formal and informal initiatives such as mental health days.
Mental Health & Crisis Resources: Evaluate and promote your resources, including your health plan and your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Engage with your benefits consultant to identify gaps and opportunities in your current environment.
Mitigating Risk: Reduce access to lethal means and address legal issues. Work with your risk management and legal teams to thoroughly and appropriately address this area.
Crisis Response: Accommodation, re-integration, and postvention for any affected parties.
Impact of Your EAP
EAPs are a mixed bag for most employers. While many employers offer one, with up to 97 percent of large employers and 68 percent of employers with 100 to 500 employees offering one, it’s hard to know how rigorously the employer researched the market before choosing a vendor.
What is your foundational reason for offering an Employee Assistance Program?
Did you conduct an assessment at the outset with your benefits consultant?
How is it working for your team?
How are you communicating the existence of and access to your EAP?
What is your team’s utilization rate?
Are your employees able to access professionals with the background to address their needs and particular concerns, be them racial, identity-related, etc.?
Are employees receiving timely and appropriate care?
If employees need to be routed to additional care beyond what is provided by the EAP, how well has the EAP facilitated these referrals?
Again, we have to emphasize the assistance of your benefits consultant in this area, as most organizations are unlikely to have the bandwidth and expertise to navigate this area of employee benefits.
Resources for Mental Health Awareness
NAMI is a leading mental illness non-profit and has many resources available on their Mental Health Awareness Month page. Of particular note are images and graphics for #MHAM as well as a 2021 Awareness Event Guide.
You can also call the NAMI helpline at 900-950-NAMI or text “NAMI” to 741741 if you are in a crisis.
AFSP is the largest non-profit solely dedicated to suicide prevention. For this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month, AFSP is emphasizing collective mental health, the message that no one’s meant health is fully supported until everyone’s mental health is fully supported.
AFSP is running a full calendar of events for MHAM and you can read real stories, find social media graphics, and access resources for mental health in English and Spanish on their dedicated MHAM website under Mental Health 4 All.
WSP is a collaborative partnership of suicide prevention leaders, including the American Association of Suicidology, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and United Suicide Survivors International, in addition to hundreds of workplace stakeholders.
The Center helps employers create a more supportive work environment for the mental health of their employees and create forward-thinking mental health policies at their organizations. Their website provides case studies, employer resources, and more.
Self-Assessment of Your Mental and Behavioral Health Support
Has your organization taken a leadership position in workplace mental and behavioral health? Might you mirror the organizations with a disconnect between how the executive team thinks it’s doing versus employee perception?