Behavioral Health has always been something that employers have seen, but rarely want to talk about. It has recently been gaining steam in American culture and it can no longer be treated like a dirty little secret. We must embrace it. Let’s look at a few statistics about the current state of the issue:
- 76% of Americans believe mental health is as important as physical fitness
- 56% of Americans are seeking or wanting to seek mental health services for themselves or for a loved one
- 74% of Americans do not believe such services are accessible for everyone and about 47% believe options are limited
- 21% have wanted to see a professional, but were unable to for reasons outside of their control
The statistics I just sited are alarming. The population is asking for help, so how can we give options to people who believe they are limited?
Employers have been very interested in the wellness arena and that arena now encompasses total wellness and making sure their employees are bringing their best selves to work every day. A major component of total wellness is mental health. Now, there are 3 major ways to combat mental health issues - two are traditional methods and one is a new idea that is gaining momentum:
1. EAP Programs - Employers have been able to take the low hanging fruit approach to mental wellness through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). These programs are usually offered as a stand-alone or as part of the value offerings from a life and disability carrier. These programs sometimes offer a set number of telephonic or, in some cases, face-to-face counseling sessions. They are limited in scope and many times the therapists for these EAP plans end up referring clients to a mental health professional, which exacerbates the problem we have now. However, these programs are very important as a first line of defense and can help a person get the ball rolling.
2. Private or Clinic Based Psychologist or Psychiatrist – The standard of care for mental health is usually seeing a mental health professional for counseling services. Based on some of the facts I shared before, there is often a lack of options and long wait times for an appointment. I know people who have had to wait as long as 6 months for an appointment. People in rural areas or with low incomes also have fewer options.
3. Tele-Mental Health – This is the newest form of help in the mental professional’s arsenal and has been a very effective way of supporting mental health. Now, in no way is this a substitute for face-to-face counseling, but it can be a very effective way for someone to get quick access if they need it. It also takes the rural area problem out of the picture. These tele-visits are actually quite affordable to patients. Insurance Carriers have been jumping on board as well with phone apps to expedite the process of appointments within a few days.
So, if I am a company without a Mental Health Plan, what should we do?
The first and easiest option would be to set up an EAP program. There are many options in the marketplace and the best start would be to contact your life and disability carrier to see if they have a value-added program that could be implemented at no cost. You could also look at a stand-alone program that has a very low cost start point.
Check in with your medical carrier and discuss network options for employees and find out average wait times for new patients. Find out the number of professionals in your area so you have a good idea of access and providers. The best defense is knowing what you’re up against before an employee shows up in your office and needs help.
Many medical carriers offer some sort of tele-health application for online video conference with a mental health professional. They cover for needs such as: stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, ADD/ADHD, grief, mental health disorders, and counseling. I truly think this will start to take off as a stop gap to low access, rural communities and as a way to see someone without the long waits we have seen in recent times. It is extremely cost effective, with some options as low as $49 for a 45 minute session. These options alleviate access issues and the wait of accessing the care your employees need when they need it.
In the coming years I believe it will become more common place to talk about mental health. We are definitely not there yet, but we are at the precipice of something great. Just the idea of having open discussions about mental health and then having the access, providers, and networks to easily access care will alleviate many problems in the workplace. Who knows, down the road we may see mental health professionals onsite, just like we are seeing with onsite medical clinics now! All of these things will allow our employees to bring their best selves to work every day. We all win if we get to that point.
The big question is are you ready to start?