Most, if not all of us, can attest to the impact mental health can have on vast aspects of our lives – how we think, feel and act. We may have seen in others or ourselves how this can manifest across a spectrum, from basic wellness and stress management to addiction to serious mental illness.
In recent years, mental health care and addiction treatment have been increasingly accepted as essential components of workplace health insurance plans. This goes hand in hand with less stigma and less employee reluctance to seek care when needed. Reinforcing this acceptance is a broader nationwide recognition of the pressures of managing day-to-day stressors – family, health, finances, work – amplified by a seemingly crisis-prone global context that includes a pandemic, a war, a drought, forest fires, mass shootings and political and economic upheaval.
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Simultaneously, advances in digital treatment options provide employers and employees with more care options. One of the challenges is the sheer number of such offers and options. You can’t go online or listen to a podcast without hearing an advertisement for one or more of these digital options. Employers who strive to offer competitive and useful benefit plans have the important additional task of making these plans easy to purchase and use for their employees and dependents. The options can be overwhelming: “Where to start? Which program is best for me? Which is best for my family?’ For the employer, too many options can lead to poor onboarding, layoffs, and gaps in care, which can increase costs, reduce quality, and lead to poor results and employee frustration.
As we head towards the end of the year, there is a natural point of reflection for employers and employees to assess their healthcare benefits and the new digital modalities available to deliver them. Employers can help ensure their plans are accessible by working to remove as many barriers to access as possible, including reducing stigma, building trust and simplifying navigation.
The Basics: Stigma and Communication
The first thing employers can do to improve access and engagement is to address the stigma that can prevent employees and their families from taking full advantage of their mental health care benefits and services. Although we have come a long way towards accepting the legitimacy and importance of mental health, a lingering and historic stigma remains. Even today, more than half of adults who need mental health care do not receive treatment. This equates to 27 million adults in the United States who are untreated. Stigma can play a role in discouraging employees and their families from recognizing that they may need care and from seeking it.
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Stigma continues to undermine psychologically healthy workplace spending, as confidentiality can be a big concern. Employees may be reluctant to take advantage of their mental health benefits or take sick leave for fear that their co-workers and supervisor will find out. In addition to the shame that may accompany a mental illness or addiction problem, employees may also fear that seeking mental health care will have a negative impact on their work, such as being passed over for a promotion, being fired altogether, or having their reputation tarnished.
Employers can apply two simple yet powerful strategies to reduce employee fear and stigma:
- Clear and deliberate communication about confidentiality: Employer communication strategies for mental health benefits and services should explicitly state that their use is confidential. Employers should not assume that “everyone already knows it”. Surprisingly, employees often worry that their mental health care is subject to different confidentiality rules than other employer-sponsored health plans and programs. This is how the stigma continues to emerge. If there are any questions or concerns about “health data” and the amount of information an employer will receive from insurance companies, employers should make it clear to employees that the data is used in aggregate form as a way to identify which services are useful and work best for employees. and NOT used to identify individual employees or their family members who suffer from mental illness or addiction.
- Normalize the search for help – Where appropriate, leaders can share personal experiences of taking charge of their own mental health. A note of caution, sharing should be done appropriately and leaders should be careful not to over-share. When done thoughtfully, sharing is empowering and will help eliminate stigma, making mental health care less shameful and on par with other health issues.
Make it easy to use: Simplify navigation
Navigating health care benefits is complicated for most of us. When we talk about how to determine a package of mental health services and benefits, it can get even more complicated, especially if employees feel like they don’t want to ask questions or seek help from anyone. a benefits coach at work. As mentioned above, building trust in the workplace so that employees are willing to explore mental health care options is an important step. It is equally important to make the benefits plan and services as easy to understand and access as possible.
Read more: How can employers make mental health benefits work for their teams?
This is an area of focus at Blue Shield of California where we strive to find the right balance of digital “whole person health” programs to support our members and make it easier for them to start a journey. mental health care. Employers can also simplify by ensuring that the services and programs they offer are easily recognizable and accessible. Simplifying navigation wherever possible helps ease the burden on the employee of knowing where to start and which program or benefit would be most helpful.
As health plans and employers continue to evaluate and improve plans for delivering mental health and addictions treatment programs, we must remain mindful of how the current stigma, reinforcing trust and navigation are also emotional and logistical barriers to engagement. Even with advances in digital options, without focusing on what has stopped people from seeking help, we will not be able to create meaningful change for our members, employees and their families. Broadening our perspectives and our definitions of access challenges – and related solutions – will be our best guide on the way forward.