Investing in Employee Mental Health Pays Dividends for All

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By Amy Kazmierczak, Chief People Officer

Workplaces play a significant role in our mental and physical well-being, but until recently, employers focused mainly on their employees’ physical health. Today, with more workers than ever reporting a need for behavioral health care services, employers are starting to recognize that they must do more to support their employees’ mental health.

There is no question that the country is facing a mental health epidemic, with one in five U.S. adults reporting a mental illness according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A recently conducted 2024 Large Employer Health Care Strategy Survey found that 77% of employers saw an increase in mental health concerns among their employees in 2023, up from 44% in 2022

Individual and Systemic Impact of Whole-Person Wellness

The economic costs associated with these mental health issues are immense. According to the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety alone cost the global economy a staggering $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. These numbers highlight the pressing need for employers to prioritize mental health initiatives and create healthier, more supportive environments for their workforces.

As we enter another open enrollment season, employers should focus on creating front-door access to mental health benefits to ensure their employees are getting timely help. Employees’ mental health not only benefits individuals, but also contributes to a more resilient, thriving, successful organization.

Growing Demand for Workplace Mental Health

The 2023-23 Aflac WorkForces report found that the overwhelming majority of employees believe that mental health coverage is as important to them as major medical coverage. Another study found that 81% of workers reported that they will be looking for workplaces that support mental health in the future.

Despite the increasing demand, only 61% of employees have access to mental health care as part of their current benefits package. This lack is especially acute among small business employees, with only 54% of them reporting having access to mental health coverage. As expected, one of the primary barriers to providing these benefits is cost. Another challenge is the shortage of mental health professionals in the U.S. The Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that by 2025 the nation will have 10,000 fewer mental health professionals than it needs.

Access is perhaps the most pressing challenge. Even for employees with mental health benefits, long wait times, a lack of providers and services that may not align with employees’ specific requirements can create significant obstacles to getting help. This results in prolonged suffering, reduced productivity and increased absenteeism.

Amy Kazmierczak

“Today, offering mental health benefits to employees is no longer a nice-to-have option — it’s a workplace imperative.”

Amy Kazmierczak – Chief People Officer

Providing Employees with Comprehensive and Integrated Options

Many organizations that offer mental health benefits do so through Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). However, it’s becoming increasingly evident that EAPs are often under-utilized and may not be the most effective solution for promoting mental health. There are several reasons for this, including:

Stigma: Despite significant advancements in raising awareness about mental health issues, there is still a stigma attached to seeking help for mental health problems. Employees may be reluctant to access EAP services due to fear of judgment or discrimination.

Lack of awareness: Many employees are unaware of the existence of EAPs or the services they offer. Employers may not effectively communicate these resources, resulting in under-utilization.

Perceived ineffectiveness: Some employees may believe that EAPs offer limited support or are not tailored to their specific needs, deterring them from seeking help.

Privacy concerns: Employees may not trust or understand the confidentiality of an EAP, raising concerns about sharing their personal information.

Employers can take steps to address these limitations of EAPs. For starters, they can help reduce stigma by openly discussing mental health and promoting a culture of acceptance and support. Encouraging conversations about mental health can make employees more comfortable seeking help. Employers can consider offering comprehensive benefits packages that include mental health support as a core component to demonstrate their commitment to employee well-being and help attract and retain top talent. They can continuously measure the effectiveness of the mental health programs they offer to ensure they meet employee needs. Finally, they can streamline access to mental health resources by partnering with a behavioral health expert team that will manage the member experience from appointment through treatment.   

Using Behavioral Health Technology & Analytics to Improve Access and Outcomes

Under a typical health plan, when a member seeks mental health services, they are given a list of clinicians whom they then must call to verify both insurance coverage and availability — a time-consuming and often fruitless task that leaves many struggling to get care. A different approach is needed, one that leverages technology to improve patient access, clinical team productivity and mental health outcomes.

Lucet is pioneering a new solution that utilizes technology backed by care teams to radically improve access and outcomes, called Navigate & Connect. It is designed to improve access in several ways, starting with a robust clinical screening that care navigators conduct with members. Every screening is supported by a real-time risk assessment and a proprietary claims-based algorithm that helps care navigators guide members to the appropriate care nearly 7 times faster than the industry average. To further accelerate the path to care, Lucet’s technology is also integrated with provider systems so care navigators can schedule appointments directly, in one call. Then Lucet’s Behavioral Health Index (BHI®) continuously measures and tracks the member progress for better outcomes.

Today, offering mental health benefits to employees is no longer a nice-to-have option — it’s a workplace imperative. Companies need to address the growing demand for behavioral health support by investing in new health benefit offerings that leverage data and technology to connect their employees with the right care at the right time – improving outcomes for all.

Speak with your employer or health plan about adding Lucet to their benefits offering.

Amy Kazmierczak is chief people officer at Lucet, The Behavioral Health Optimization Company.

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