What does a mental-health benefits package do for employees and the bottom line? One in five Americans will experience a mental illness that is medically diagnosed. There are likely more undiagnosed cases. The effects of mental illness on the workplace are very real. These include lost productivity, tardiness, absenteeism, and even actual employee loss due to the often debilitating symptoms that mental illness can cause.
Mental Illness Can Affect Everyone
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, major mental illness is costing the United States at least $193 billion annually. This does not include lost earnings. According to the American Psychiatric Foundation and the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, untreated depression can cost companies $44 billion annually in lost productivity.
Untreated mental illness can cause a host of workplace-related problems, including increased accidents, workers’ comp claims, disabilities, workplace violence, and claims of harassment or discrimination. These are all scenarios that are becoming more obvious in today’s world.
Therefore, it makes sense for businesses to provide full mental health benefits to employees. Experts recommend that employees should be notified as soon as possible to avoid serious mental illness and costly consequences.
For those suffering from any type of mental illness, early intervention has been shown to be the most effective. If mental illness is not treated or diagnosed promptly, or employees are denied access to treatment options, it can be difficult for them to get well on their terms.
Health Care Reform and Mental Health Protection
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that all individual and private medical plans offer minimum coverage for preventive care, mental health screenings, and substance abuse services. This applies to all medical plans purchased through state marketplaces.
Group benefit plans cannot refuse coverage for anyone with a history or mental illness. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, (MHPAEA), requires that plan administrators treat mental illness with no restrictions. This is similar to the approval process for surgical procedures. Medicare and Medicaid provide basic coverage for substance abuse treatment and mental health wellness.
These laws protect mental health patients against discrimination by insurance providers. They also support people with limited incomes to pay for services. Although we have made great strides since the days of shock therapy and incarceration for the mentally ill, there are still stigmas that can cause employees to deny they need help.
Understanding the Barriers to Help
Some people may view medication for mental illness as a problem if it restricts the employee’s ability or performance. You may be unable to use certain equipment or drive company vehicles if you are taking medication that causes drowsiness.
Another barrier to help is missing work to attend therapy appointments or taking unpaid time off to complete a 90-day substance abuse treatment program.
Many employees end up without insurance, even if they have a plan that covers the cost of high-quality mental health care. Employers should also educate their employees about their benefits. Some may resort to using illicit drugs, alcohol, and other negative behaviors for self-medication. Untreated and undiagnosed mental illness can manifest in workplace relationships with clients and coworkers. It can cause companies and teams to fall apart. It can make otherwise great employees toxic.
Any business can reap the benefits of offering generous group mental health benefits. Employers that value their employees and wish to show this can provide mental health benefits at any time of year, regardless of whether or not the employee’s health insurance plan covers this.
Designing mental health benefits that work
There are many behavioral health plans available that can address mental illness in workplaces. This is often done by a multi-integrated approach. A well-designed plan for health includes:
Initiate an Employee Assistance Program
It is a smart idea to have an employee support program (EAP), in place as soon as you can. Although this can be expensive for employees, the benefits are immense. EAPs give employees direct access to confidential professionals who can help them with any area of distress, from work-related problems to family issues and mental illness. EAP teams can direct employees to counseling sessions, or provide short-term treatment.
Establish a Nurse Hotline that is available 24/7
You can also contract with your health insurance vendor to set up a 24-hour nurse hotline for employees or their families. This is a great way to make sure employees have access to help whenever they need it. You can ask questions about your health to find out if you need to see a doctor or go to the emergency room.
Select a plan that includes mental health benefits
The ACA requires that insurance plans offer basic mental health coverage. However, this can be limited. High-deductible health plans (HDHPs), are often used by employees. They may not be able to see the benefit in using their insurance for counseling, but instead, reserve their money for major hospitalizations and planned procedures. Employers should offer employee benefits that provide above-average mental healthcare coverage, and health savings account to offset any out-of-pocket expenses when combined with HDHPs.
Designate a contact for mental health communications
Managers and family members may be uncomfortable with employees discussing mental health issues. Every workplace should have at minimum one human resource professional who has been trained in intervention coaching. Many times, these situations can be resolved by referring to a qualified mental healthcare provider or through mediation through the EAP. Make sure employees are familiar with the available mental health benefits so they can access the right help as soon as possible.
Get Employee Discounts from Local Wellness Providers
Working with local wellness vendors to offer discounts is another way to create a workplace that supports employees who have mental health issues. A massage therapist can help with stress reduction, and long-term, unmanaged stress may be a sign that you have depression. Good mental health requires a good diet and regular exercise. Employees can stay productive and healthy by having access to nutrition counseling and local fitness resources.
Mental Health Education and Resources on-site
Access to timely and accurate information is perhaps the most important aspect of any employee’s mental health benefits package. An employee may not know how to access their medical benefits or whom to contact if they are in a crisis.
A corporate library should contain plenty of educational materials, such as self-help books, information sheets on benefits, and directories of local mental healthcare and medical providers. Managers can encourage communication by emphasizing the importance of good health and not treating others differently if they are dealing with a mental illness.
Employee Wellness Benefits: Mental Health
Benefit programs must be designed to promote employee wellbeing from head to foot. Although employees may not show signs of mental illness, they might be unable to work as well or may become irritable. Employees with mental illness are protected under the workforce laws. Don’t single out employees who need help. Instead, give employees access to self-service information so they can seek the help they need.