How businesses can address mental health in the workplace

How businesses can address mental health in the workplace

Expert insights from our President and CEO,
Raegan Garber Le Douaron 

Food, water, shelter … there are a number of things every person, no matter their demographics or circumstances, should have access to. Full, high-quality primary care is something I personally believe belongs on that list. Individuals should be able to have all of their health care needs meet — for both their body and mind.

However, for many Americans, mental health care often gets overlooked. In the United States, about one in four adults experiences a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, yet Mental Health America found that nearly 24% of adults reported an unmet need for treatment from 2017 to 2018. Even prior to the pandemic, Mental Health America found that the prevalence of mental illness among adults was increasing; the organization also found that youth mental health is worsening.

With so many people across our nation suffering from mental illness, many say this urgent issue is becoming a crisis. However, as the president and principal of a company that has begun incorporating integrated behavioral health into its health and wellness centers, I believe this model may offer a solution.

Integrated behavioral health is an emerging health care model where behavioral and primary care providers work together as a team to provide a holistic approach to care — both mental and physical health are addressed simultaneously. It addresses the link between mental and physical health.

The relationship between mental and physical health is based on factual evidence. According to the CDCdepression increases the risk of physical health problems like diabetes and heart disease, and one 2016 analysis found that depression rates among those with type 1 diabetes could be three times higher than in those with normal glucose metabolism. Meanwhile, a 2019 meta-analysis found that the combined prevalence of mental health disorders in those with chronic physical diseases was 36.6%.

The objective of integrated behavioral health is to coordinate care and improve communication between mental health and primary care providers to provide the most effective care possible for the whole patient.

How businesses can create better mental health results for employees

As we put the pandemic behind us, businesses across the country are moving forward with new projects, adding to their teams and returning back to business as usual. At a time when the importance of physical health is heightened, it’s important for employers not to neglect the mental health of their teams. The CDC found that Covid-19 caused spikes in depression and anxiety, and experts say this could have a long-term impact on people.

At my company, a provider of onsite and near-site health care for employers, we’re encouraging employers to take all aspects of an employee’s health into account. To do this, we’ve begun implementing an integrated behavioral health approach in each of our health and wellness centers.

Here are several actions businesses themselves can take to encourage overall health, happiness and satisfaction in their employees.

Make mental health part of the care plan

Gone are the days when health was only about your physical well-being. I believe you should provide convenient mental health options for your employees.

Do the health care plans you offer employees include mental health coverage? Be sure to regularly assess your plans and ensure not only that mental health care is available but also that it’s convenient and affordable so that employees can actually receive treatment.

However, it’s not enough to just provide great health care options. If your employees don’t know mental health care is included in their plan, they won’t be able to use that resource. You can educate them by providing detailed information about your health plans during orientation and using clear messaging during open enrollment periods.

Make mental health care affordable

Without convenient, affordable mental health care, people may not be able to access the treatment they need. By looking for a health care provider that provides bundled services, you could save both your company and your employees money.

If you’re unable to commit to this option, there are still actions you can take. You could handle the research for your employees. Compile a list of the local mental health providers in your area that accept employees’ insurance plans or ones that offer flexible or low-cost fees. Post it in a place that all employees have easy access to, like your company’s employee portal, the breakroom, in the handbook and so on.

Reduce the stigma

Mental health has long been surrounded by stigma. By making a conscious effort to reduce the negativity toward it, you can establish a better work environment. In addition to offering inclusive insurance coverage, there are a plethora of ways you can help reduce the stigma.

Something companies may find beneficial is an employee assistance program (EAP). An EAP is a counseling or consulting program that assists employees with handling problems that may affect their work. They can cover a multitude of things, like powering performance or helping with child care and mental health. By establishing a strong EAP that can help address employees’ needs and mental health, you can help create a more inclusive work environment and better company culture.

Another way to create a positive work environment that’s sensitive to people’s needs is to offer management training. Your managers set the example for the workplace. By training them on how to identify and address mental health issues in themselves and their own professional lives, they’ll be able to better support their co-workers.

You can subtly bring mental health to the forefront of your employees’ minds by regularly sharing resources via employee communications channels like the monthly newsletter. Rather than offer separate vacation and sick days, use the general term “paid time off.” This will allow employees to take mental health days without worrying about whether to call them “sick” or “vacation” days. Lastly, ensure you’re using non-stigmatizing language in your communications.

My team and I are on a mission to change the way health care is delivered across the U.S. I believe employers have a role to play in facilitating access to care.

Click here to view this article on Forbes.