Strategies To Connect Employees to Mental Health Benefits

Strategies To Connect Employees to Mental Health Benefits

November 08, 2023

Stress, anxiety, depression, burnout and other mental health conditions are challenging workplaces across regions and industries. More than 50 million Americans are dealing with a mental illness, according to the nonprofit Mental Health America. And 34% of employees report declining mental health, notes the human resources association SHRM. 

Making matters worse is a lack of connection to mental health services. Mental Health America reports nearly 30% of adults cannot access the mental health care they need.

Accessibility issues

Many employers are trying to add in-network mental health services and providers. But a shortage of mental health care providers means inaccessibility will likely remain a significant challenge.

Wait times for mental health providers can range from days to months. Employee Benefit News reports many providers are so busy they aren’t accepting new patients. The scarcity of providers means some employees can’t access treatment at all or experience worsening mental health conditions due to delayed care.

An additional challenge is that the first available mental health care provider may not be the right match for an employee. Patients need to feel a strong, comfortable connection with the provider. This is especially true for counselors, therapists and psychiatrists. According to Employee Benefit News, it often takes patients two or three attempts to find the right therapist.

Despite these challenges, there are strategies to help your employees get the care they need. And the return on investment can be substantial, notes SHRM. Returns include:

  • Improved attendance, engagement and productivity
  • Reduced rates of stress and related chronic conditions
  • Increased employee retention and job satisfaction

How employers can help

There isn’t a single answer to accessibility issues in mental health care. But these eight strategies can help you understand employee needs, identify potential solutions and increase pathways to mental health treatment.

Frequent communication 

Communicating regularly about workplace mental health can normalize the issues your employees face. It can also increase the usage of your existing mental health benefits.  

Mental health affects every aspect of life and work. Organizations are increasingly including mental health resources in various employee communications to reflect this breadth of mental health needs. 

Don’t limit messaging to communications during open enrollment and employee onboarding. Instead, reinforce mental health benefits when communicating about other aspects of your organization, including new business developments, growths or reductions in your workforce, productivity and sales benchmarks, and more. 

Frequent communication encourages employees to discuss their challenges and helps them find solutions. As you communicate, address differences that can occur among different genders and races. 

SHRM notes that 70% of women value mental health benefits, compared with 49% of men. Yet men are over 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide. Social and cultural norms may dissuade men from discussing or seeking mental health treatment. 

These disparities are also seen in different racial groups. SHRM notes that a lack of diversity among health care providers may explain lower rates of nonwhite employees seeking mental health treatment. 

To overcome hesitation among employee groups not seeking treatment, communicate the importance of diversity in mental health providers and treatment options. Securing providers with similar traits, backgrounds and experiences to those of your employees can help bridge gaps in access. 

Employee surveys

Ask employees about their mental health needs. Anonymous surveys can reveal mental health challenges in your workforce. 

Surveys can also pinpoint challenges related to access or affordability. Employee insights can lead to two immediate actions: 

  • If your current benefits align with employee needs, increase your communications and direct employees to these resources. 
  • If you uncover unmet needs, strategize with your broker or benefits adviser to address gaps in mental health benefits.

Care integration

Integrate mental health treatment with primary care. Encourage transparency between employees and their doctors. And reduce barriers to referrals and appointments with mental health professionals. 

Transparency is important because primary care doctors don’t always need to refer patients for mental health needs. SHRM notes that primary care clinics can address many mental health conditions, including stress and anxiety disorders, eating disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. 

Employee assistance program

Promote the mental health benefits within your employee assistance program (EAP). EAPs provide confidential resources at no cost to employees. They typically connect employees to mental health counselors trained to meet their needs. 

Many EAPs provide three to six counseling sessions for free. They can also connect employees to additional mental health care providers if they need further treatment. 

Despite these resources, EAPs are often underutilized. Regular messaging can normalize and promote EAP usage.

Community care

Remind employees about community-based care options. For example, SHRM reports that walk-in MinuteClinics at CVS Health offer nurse practitioners who can assess patients for anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges. Some clinics also provide social workers to address health issues or connect patients to specialists.

Virtual care

Virtual care options can reduce waiting times to speak to a mental health provider. Telehealth increases access to providers beyond employees’ geographic locations, often at a lower cost than in-office visits.

In addition, virtual pharmacies may offer prescription drugs at lower prices. These savings can increase medication access and adherence for those facing financial challenges. Virtual pharmacies often provide online access, refill reminders and free delivery. Pharmacists can consult with employees by phone or video.

Plan navigation

Your carrier may have plan navigators to help employees locate potential providers and schedule appointments. This service can be vital for individuals facing depression and anxiety because it removes roadblocks to care. For example, a navigator may be better equipped to pursue multiple options if the first provider is not seeing new patients.

Some carriers have mental health care case managers who follow up with patients facing more severe mental health challenges. Case managers typically check in following emergency room visits, inpatient treatment or new prescription medications.

Online resources

Mental health apps provide another avenue for treatment. Free or subsidized apps can offer employees valuable tools and resources. Examples include self-guided mental health assessments and cognitive behavioral therapy. 

In addition, insurance carriers often provide their own apps to improve the patient experience and connect employees to in-network providers. Carrier apps are another option for reducing financial and accessibility issues.

More information is available

For additional information on mental health benefits, contact your insurance broker or benefits adviser. They can help you explore mental health trends, identify employee needs and examine solutions.