You can create a mental health benefit plan for your employees.

“Stigma and prejudice cause an environment of stress and cause people to not get the care they need,” said Michael Thompson, president and CEO at National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions.

Health benefits are designed to maintain and enhance the health of employees and their families. However, the subject of mental health is rarely discussed – inside or outside of the workplace. It can be a taboo topic filled with negative stigma and prejudice in our current American culture.

The Alliance invited employers, brokers and industry professionals to participate in, “Keeping Employees Happy and Healthy: An Event Focused on Mental Health in the Workplace.”

Thompson was one of the speakers at this event. He shared a four-step plan to create an inclusive workplace culture advocating mental health and well-being.

Step #1: Know the Impact

Here’s a few facts you should know:

  • Suicide rates in the U.S. were up 25 percent from 1999 to 2014 with the largest rates occurring in middle-aged men and women.
  • The opioid epidemic has made overdose the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.
  • There is a growing body of evidence that loneliness and social isolation are a risk factor for health on par with smoking.
  • Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the workforce.

“Depression alone has an estimated economic cost of over $200 billion. Most of that cost is related to employees not being able to perform as effectively at work,” said Thompson.

How will you create and promote good mental health through your employee benefit plan? It’s an important question to think about. The answer will not only affect the well-being of your employees, it will affect the productivity of your organization.

Step #2: Break the Silence

You can reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues by promoting good mental health as a natural extension of overall health. How?

  • Create opportunities for employees to speak up about the issues that matter in their lives. This will reinforce that your workplace culture is supportive, inclusive and engaging.
  • Make it easier for employees to accept and get help for their mental health issues.
  • Support them in their recovery and progress back to full and more effective engagement.

Ian Shea, founder and CEO at I M Human, suggests meeting people where they are at to start the discussion about stigma. “Because recognizing how we arrive as humans at work each day . . . matters,” said Shea.

Step #3: Improve Affordable, Quality, Integrated Support

Thompson advocated for connections to community resources and reducing financial barriers. Some of his suggestions included:

  • Assess out-of-network usage as a potential indicator of inadequate support in-network.
  • Reward and reimburse for collaborative care in the primary care setting.
  • Consider telehealth services as a supplemental access point to mental health professionals.
  • Reimburse for genetic diagnoses to provide better matching treatment options.
  • Promote your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). “An EAP is one of the most valuable health benefits that you can offer, but they are typically underutilized,” said Thompson.

“There is one mental health provider for every 790 individuals in the U.S. Telehealth services may reduce this gap,” added Jenny Carrillo, VP Strategic Account Management at AmericanWell.

Every organization has their own unique culture and benefit plan. Make data-driven decisions about your benefits program using your organization’s claims data, utilization and trends.

Step #4: Move Toward a Culture of Well-Being

Studies have shown that well-being is foundational and is directly tied to creating and sustaining a highly-engaged, high-performing, innovative and loyal workforce.

Want to connect the dots for your leadership team?

A culture of well-being is a people opportunity. When your organization supports both the physical and emotional well-being of your employees and their families, the result will have a positive return on investment.

“The ultimate goal is to make accessing quality mental health care socially acceptable, convenient and affordable,” said Thompson.

How will you encourage a culture of well-being at your organization?

Members of The Alliance can request a mental health in-network vs. out-of-network usage report from their member services representative.

Not a member, yet? Learn more about The Alliance. Members of our not-for-profit cooperative work together as a purchasing coalition to achieve choice, cost and control in moving health care forward through their self-funded employee benefits plans.