Originally posted on hubinternational.com
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the nation’s mental health was in crisis. Nearly 50 million people, experienced clinical mental illness in some form in 2019, and 5.5% reported serious thoughts of suicide.1
Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic only made things worse, resulting in millions of additional cases of depression and anxiety worldwide,2 adding risk to individuals and the organizations that employ them.
However, employers can have a critical role to play in tackling the issue, and they have a vested interest in doing so: Employee mental health issues have a major impact, morale, culture, recruiting and ultimately the bottom line.
That makes mental health benefits critical to any employee benefits program. But mental health benefits or programs on their own aren’t enough: They should be integrated into a workplace mental health strategy, making them one part of a larger whole that includes overall employee wellbeing.
Creating an effective workplace mental health strategy
The first step is for employers to raise awareness, which means countering the stigma of mental health issues and helping employees understand that prioritizing mental health is a key component of one’s total wellbeing.
At the same time, leadership must consider systemic causes of poor mental health and remove barriers to access care. Too often, the nature of mental health makes it harder to address than physical health. Employers should assess if the work environment itself is creating undue stress and consider making resources available at any time.
A strong wellbeing strategy should assess the need for solutions, starting with individual conversations with employees on shared experiences, as well as evaluating data from healthcare claims and EAP use that may indicate a higher level of workplace mental health issues. Metrics that include employee satisfaction, productivity and absenteeism can help gauge the impact of solutions and inform strategy.
Employers building a mental health and wellness strategy should also ensure quality, equitable access to mental health resources that are safe, effective and patient-centric.
A workplace mental health strategy is more than an EAP
It’s not just the access points like health plans and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that are important but addressing the spectrum of mental and emotional wellbeing challenges. Intervention and treatment options need to be made available with minimum delays and timely, equitable access that leverages multiple tools to meet the needs of all employees.
Employers can also partner with local and national mental health organizations to deliver highly vetted, quality resources available online and in person.
Workplace mental health and wellbeing takes effort but will enhance the overall value and impact of a wellness program overall. Emotional wellness initiatives, for example, provide life coping skills, supported by lifestyle coaching or self-management programs that focus on stress management. Financial wellbeing is another dimension supporting strong mental health and wellbeing. It can be addressed through employer-sponsored solutions (such as student loan repayments and counseling) targeted to particular employee groups.
HUB International’s employee benefit specialists work with employers of all sizes in all industries on every aspect of employee benefits program planning and management.
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1 Mental Health America, “The State of Mental Health in America,” 2022.
2 CNBC, “Last responders: Mental Health Damage from Covid could last a generation, professionals say,” February 10, 2022.