Mental health is a growing problem in the U.S. workforce. As many as one out of every 5 adults will be diagnosed with or experience a mental illness every single year.
In spite of these high numbers, only 41% of individuals who suffer from a mental illness will actually receive treatment for it. More than half of surveyed individuals have no idea if their employer offers mental health coverage, or have found that there is no coverage available for them.
Much of this can be blamed on the fact that many insurance policies don't cover mental health treatments. That might be changing in the near future though, as many companies are discovering the possible financial returns that can be obtained by offering mental health care coverage for their employees.
How can this kind of health insurance be beneficial for both companies and their employees?
Lack of Coverage Options
Having health insurance through your employer has a number of benefits — you can choose your own doctors and have the coverage you need when you need it. When it comes to mental health, though, the coverage options are limited.
According to the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions (NAHPC), mental health specialists are choosing to remain out of network. 95 percent of primary care providers have chosen to join local commercial health plan networks.
For mental health care providers, there is a financial incentive to remaining out of network — patients then either have to pay out of pocket which eliminates the need for the middleman at the insurance company, or the provider is able to submit a claim to the patient’s insurance that is higher than what they would have charged for self-pay patients.
This makes it harder for employees, even those with insurance, to obtain the mental health coverage that they need to obtain treatment and medication. Adding mental health coverage to an employer's insurance plan might seem expensive but reports have shown that businesses that take this step can expect some surprising returns.
Eliminating the Stigma
One thing that keeps people from seeking out mental health treatment — whether they have coverage from their employer or not — is the negative stigma that surrounds mental illness. Talking openly about mental health is often met with fear, anger, or disgust from others who don't understand the conditions or are misinformed.
We can blame popular media for many of the mental health stereotypes that we experience on a daily basis. People with mental illnesses are portrayed as monstrous individuals who do nothing but hurt themselves or those around them. We are getting some good portrayals now — the TV series "This is Us" was hailed for its spot-on portrayal of anxiety, and Iron Man 3 showcases a very good portrayal of PTSD in its main character, Tony Stark.
One of the best things an employer can do for their team is to work toward eliminating the stigma that surrounds mental health. Don't discourage people from discussing their journey or their mental health — encourage it. Talking about it and normalizing it can help to combat some of the harm done by popular media, and might be the first step toward eliminating the stigma that keeps so many people from seeking help.
Providing timely mental health coverage for employees is important for a variety of reasons.
The American Psychiatric Foundation has discovered that untreated depression in the workplace can cost upwards of $44 billion in the form of lost productivity — and that's just for depression. That doesn't even begin to address other common mental health diagnoses such as anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Factor in those, as well as substance abuse treatment, and the loss reaches an astonishing $225.5 billion annually.
Offering this coverage also offers a number of other possible benefits as a result of the increased mental stability of employees. It helps to:
- Improves worker productivity — workers who get the chance to receive treatment for their mental illness can focus more on their work and less on what’s plaguing their mind.
- Reduce absenteeism — similarly, workers who are mentally healthy are more likely to want to come into work.
- Reduce accidents and legal issues — when employees aren’t worn down by the effects of a mental illness, they are less likely to slip up at work and hurt themselves or turn to substance abuse while on the job, leading to less workmen’s compensation claims.
- Improved employee loyalty — it should go without saying that companies that show they care about their employees are more likely to retain them.
All of these can help improve your overall bottom line and create a positive return on investment (ROI) — simply by investing in mental health coverage for your employees. Mental health coverage might be optional, but it should be something that you consider adding to help your employees grow and thrive.