Buck Bond Group
Evolving strategies for addressing employees’ emotional wellbeing and mental health

Evolving strategies for addressing employees’ emotional wellbeing and mental health

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The past 15 months have challenged and changed us all, pushing mental health and emotional wellbeing into greater focus. Employers have had to adapt, with more emphasis on education, stigma reduction, and resources.

This evolution is expected to continue. As the next normal arrives, it’s important to remain aware of the needs of your workforce and continue to proactively develop your wellbeing program. Here are five challenges and what you can do as an employer to respond.

1. The right format and level of treatment isn’t always clear.

Emotional wellbeing and mental health care concerns exist on a continuum. So do options for care. Determining the right type and level of treatment can be difficult, but as with physical health, it’s critical to achieving the best patient outcomes and managing costs.

How to address? Make sure your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is prepared to help.  An EAP can be a good entry point into the mental health care system. But, before you send employees to the EAP, make sure it’s prepared to triage their needs. Confirm the vendor you work with has the right capabilities and resources for your workforce. They should be able to assess callers’ concerns and direct them to the appropriate level of care, including into the traditional clinical care system if needed. Make sure your vendor is aware of all your existing mental health offerings so they can provide a coordinated and integrated response. And, establish key performance indicators (KPIs) so your vendor is held accountable to established performance criteria.

2. Inadequate access to care can create barriers for those seeking help.

The cost of mental health care, even in-network, can feel prohibitive to employees. It often takes time to find the right provider, plus time away from work on a regular basis to make real progress. And mental health care deserts exist across the country, often in locations already challenged by poorer social determinants of health, making it even harder to find treatment. The Consolidated Appropriations Act requires documented parity for mental health and substance abuse treatment as compared to medical and surgical care, so you also will need to address these types of access issues.

How to address? Pick the right vendors. Ensure your medical and pharmacy plan design and mental health vendor partners are the right fit for your employees, their dependents, and your organization, and that your provider network is sufficiently broad. If you’re looking to augment your current program with an app-based counseling service, make sure your vendor has enough trained clinicians with the right backgrounds to address your population’s needs. When it comes to clinical care, many providers who traditionally practice in-person, including therapists and psychiatrists, have moved to a telemedicine model during the pandemic. For some individuals, this will continue to be a viable option going forward.

3. Navigating the care system can be difficult.

The U.S. mental health care system is exceedingly complicated. Too often, care centers on a given physical ailment when integrated mental health solutions are needed. For someone who is already struggling, the process of finding help may feel so overwhelming they are hesitant to complete or even begin treatment.

How to address? Simplify what you can control. Employee education is important, but easy navigation of the mental health care system may ultimately be more dependent on good design. Conduct a vendor summit to establish integration and formal handoffs between all of your mental health care vendor partners, including your medical plan carrier, EAP, health navigation service, and app-based programs or point solutions. Then, make sure your employees know where to find the “front door,” whether that’s your EAP or a high-level summary of offerings and when they may be appropriate.

4. Good long-term outcomes may mean higher short-term costs.

For more serious conditions, mental health care treatment efficacy is a long-term measure. This may mean increased costs for your medical plan in the short term.

How to address? Direct people to the right level of care. As with physical health, preventive activities to maintain good baseline emotional wellbeing are powerful, and so is conservative treatment when used appropriately. But, when a more intensive approach is indicated – whether it’s for cancer or a substance use disorder – delaying care will only result in decreased health outcomes and increased costs for the individual and your organization. Make sure your program design and communications don’t accidentally point someone in the wrong direction.

5. Stigma is multifaceted.

Age, gender, and culture all play a role in individuals’ willingness to seek help or recognize they may need it. Stigma can also be deeply personal, especially for those who’ve experienced mental health challenges, prejudice, or discrimination.

How to address? Communicate appropriately. Messaging that works for one person or audience may unintentionally hurt another, so it’s important to validate your approach. Persona exercises can help: Identify your various employee populations and the different challenges they may face – mental health related and otherwise – and test whether your messaging works for all groups. If not, consider using the personas as examples in your communication to show the range and inclusivity of your program. A culture of safety and of safe openness is also important. Leadership testimonials are powerful. It’s also a good idea to review your formal accommodation and harassment policies and make updates as needed. The more stigma decreases, the better quality of life will be for everyone.

Looking for more?

Visit the Buck.com/wellbeing for more insights and guidance and on how your organization can support employee mental health and emotional wellbeing.