Government Finally Realizes that Work is Stressful

| Brittany McCullough
psychiatrist consulting and diagnostic examining stressful female patient

By now I’m sure that we all agree about the importance of addressing mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately one in five adults are currently living with mental illness. Given the prevalence among working adults, more employers are starting to increase access to mental health services and improve support services for their employees.

In fact, last year California enacted a law that directs the state-based Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission to “establish a framework and voluntary standard for mental health in the workplace.” This framework and its related standards are meant to reduce stigma and provide guidance to employers on how to implement programs to support their employees’ mental health.

While it is something to envy, California may be a bit ahead of the curve in the development of a standard to inform employers’ strategies to address mental health in the workplace. In fact, a March 2019 report from Unum, a leader in supplemental insurance for the workplace, found that only 25 percent of mangers in the U.S. have been trained on how to make a referral to mental health resources. While this is troublesome, another survey from Mercer published in May 2019 shows that more employers are starting to be more proactive in addressing mental health.

Studies have shown that on average, roughly half of working adults in America “lose between one and five hours of work time each week due to stress.” This can translate to a massive loss in dollars for employers due to employees not being as productive as they could be. According to the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety alone result in an estimated $1 trillion in lost productivity every year. To combat this, some employers have used their employee assistance program (EAP), a supplemental benefit, to help.

According to John Greene, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, director of human resources at URAC, an EAP is a service provided to employees to assist with personal and/or professional challenges. For example, employees experiencing chronic stress may be referred to a therapist. However, Greene suggests that if an employee is experiencing any type of mental health issue, they should first contact their primary care professional.

Another approach to support employee’s mental health is through telehealth. Telehealth can offer “convenience and less-stigmatized access [and expand] access options.” Furthermore, it can “reduce missed medical appointments and missed time at work.” This is particularly important for low-income workers who may not have the flexibility to take paid time off work to attend an appointment. A 2018 Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) report notes that while the use of telehealth in Medicaid has increased, coverage widely varies across states.  

While there are varying coverage levels in Medicaid, many large employers have the option to contract with commercial health plans with adequate provider networks to ensure access to needed behavioral health care. The National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions indicates that “more comprehensive coverage for mental healthcare could bring a financial return of four dollars for every one dollar spent by employers.” Given the correlation between mental health and productivity, employers should pay more attention to their employees needs and ensure they are offering adequate support.

To learn more about the role of telehealth in improving value, click here.

To learn more about how employers can achieve value in mental health support, click here.

Brittany McCullough

Brittany McCullough, Health Policy Associate.

Brittany McCullough, URAC's health policy associate, focuses on tracking and analyzing legislation and regulations of importance to URAC stakeholders. Brittany considers herself an early careerist but most of her policy and research work has been centered on the ACA, Medicaid, CHIP, and mental health. She holds a B.S. in Neuroscience and a Master of Health Administration.

Views, thoughts and opinions expressed in my articles belong solely to me, and not necessarily to my employer.

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