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Investing in employee mental health benefits

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When it comes to employee well-being, physical health is only half of the equation. If employers want to help foster a healthy and productive workforce, they also need to promote mental health. By investing in employee mental health benefits, companies can help their employees both personally and professionally while contributing to overall business goals.

Mental Health Challenges in the U.S.

Mental illness is very prevalent in the United States. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 22.8 percent of American adults experienced a mental illness in 2021. That’s slightly more than one in five adults. Anxiety disorders are particularly common, impacting 19.1 percent of U.S. adults, along with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses.

In addition to its impact on overall well-being, people with mental illness may also be at a greater risk for other health problems. For example, NAMI states that people with depression are 40 percent more likely to develop cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Substance abuse is also common, particularly when individuals do not have mental health support: 33.5 percent of U.S. adults with mental illness also have a substance use disorder.

Because mental health issues are so prevalent, employee mental health should be a priority for all employers.

Workplace Mental Health

Mental health can impact work in numerous ways. According to the CDC, poor mental health and stress can negatively impact job performance, productivity and engagement. It may also cause difficulties in communicating with coworkers and may hinder physical capabilities and daily functioning. Mental health can also impact productivity: a literature review of 38 studies found clear evidence that poor mental health, particularly due to depression and anxiety, is associated with lost productivity, which can stem from absenteeism and presenteeism.

Mental Health Coverage and Parity

Under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, most group health plans and health insurance issuers are required to offer mental health benefits that are no more restrictive than medical and surgical benefits in terms of financial requirements and treatment limitations.

This means that insurance plans cannot charge higher copays or deductibles for mental health treatments than for doctor’s visits, and that the same limitations on the number of covered visits must be applied to both benefits.

More Support Is Needed

Mental health parity requirements mean that many workers with group health insurance already have access to mental health benefits. While this is a good start, workers may need additional support to overcome common barriers to mental health treatment, which can include the following:

  • Lack of Awareness: Some workers may not be aware of their mental health benefits. For these individuals, efforts to raise awareness could make a difference.
  • Busy Schedules: Workers with busy schedules may not have time to schedule therapy appointments. More convenient alternatives, such as remote options, may improve access to mental health resources.
  • Social Stigma: Some workers may be afraid to seek help because they are worried that they will be judged. Employers can help fight this stigma by encouraging workers to use these benefits and by communicating that all treatments are confidential.

There’s another reason to consider providing more support for mental health: mental health issues appear to be increasing. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a 25 percent increase in the occurrence of anxiety and depression. Additionally, the CDC states that the number of adolescents reporting poor mental health is increasing. As these adolescents mature and enter the workforce, they may need additional mental health resources.

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How Investing in Mental Health Can Help Employers

In recent years, many employers have recognized that supporting employee well-being makes good business sense. But this doesn’t only apply to benefits like weight loss or smoking cessation programs. Supporting mental health can also make sense for businesses, and these are just a few reasons why.

  • Mental health concerns may be linked to substance abuse and physical health problems, both of which may increase health insurance costs for employers. By supporting mental health, employers may be able to contain costs.
  • Workers struggling with mental health may not be able to do their best work. Poor sleep, anxiety and other issues associated with poor mental health may impact their focus at work, and they may need to take more time off because of this. By supporting mental health, companies can help employees be their best.
  • Robust mental health benefits can help attract top talent. Many workers, especially the Millenial and Gen Z generations, are interested in working for employers that demonstrate their company values and show that they care about their workers. And, since employee benefits can be a major factor in whether a candidate accepts or declines a job offer, offering mental health benefits can help companies compete in the talent war.

Offering Additional Mental Health Services

When it comes to offering additional employee benefits to support mental health, employers have many options to consider.

  • Virtual Therapy: Telehealth has emerged as an extremely popular way to access mental health providers. Many people simply feel more comfortable dealing with mental health issues from the comfort and privacy of their own home. Convenience is another factor – it can be much easier to squeeze in a session when you don’t have to worry about commutes and waiting rooms. Virtual therapy options could be provided as part of a group health plan or as a standalone benefit.
  • Employee Assistance Programs: An employee assistance program can provide a more robust option for employers that are serious about supporting employee well-being. EAPs can help employees manage a wide range of personal and professional issues. Some of these, such as counseling sessions and psychological assessments, can be closely related to mental health. Other services that may be offered under an employee assistance program, such as legal aid and childcare assistance, may also have a positive impact on mental health and stress levels.
  • Health Savings Accounts: A Health Savings Account (HSA) can give employees a flexible way to cover many of their health expenses, including their mental health needs.
  • Financial Wellness: Money can be a major source of stress and anxiety for many workers. By helping employees take charge of their finances, employers can also support improved mental well-being. Financial wellness benefits could include programs like retirement plans, life insurance, disability insurance, student loan repayment assistance and financial counseling.
  • Flexibility: Managing personal and professional obligations can be stressful, especially with a rigid work schedule. Whether it comes in the form of flexible hours or remote work days, flexible work arrangements can help employees find a better work-life balance and give them more freedom to prioritize their well-being.

Does your employee benefits package support mental health? Higginbotham can help you review your employee benefits options and discuss how to add employee mental health benefits. Learn more or get in touch with one of our employee benefits professionals today.

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