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Why Employers Are Investing in Mental Health Benefits

Mental health challenges are universal—most people will navigate through periods of high stress, anxiety, depression, or other issues eventually. And much like with physical health issues, workers often look to their employers for support during those times, increasingly in the form of mental health benefits.

Mental health employee benefits: the 4th pillar of your benefits strategy

Nearly 1 billion people worldwide suffer from a mental health disorder. In the U.S. alone, one in five adults experience a mental illness. Yet just 46 percent of U.S. adults with mental illness receive treatment

The costs of poor mental health and its related consequences are projected to reach $6 trillion globally by 2030, up from $2.5 trillion in 2010. That’s more than the expense associated with cancer, diabetes, and respiratory ailments combined.

These figures leave employers with their own crisis. Unaddressed mental health challenges result in more work absences, higher turnover, lower productivity, and ultimately, higher health care costs. This is why mental health benefits for employees are becoming a pillar of employer-provided benefits—alongside medical, pharmacy, and disability coverage. 

Benefits of investing in mental health

Recognizing the growing need for mental health support, 90 percent of employers in one survey reported increasing their investments in employee mental health. According to one survey, HR professionals recognize that offering mental health solutions for employers can boost productivity, increase ROI and employee retention, attract new talent, and improve overall employee mental health

While employee assistance programs are historically the first stop, they’re increasingly not the last. Plagued with problems like low utilization, limited care options, and poor care quality, many organizations are supplementing or replacing their EAPs with more robust mental health employer benefits. This is partly due to growing awareness that treatment works, it’s cost-effective, and the clinical outcomes are backed by science. Through several rigorous studies, Lyra Health has found that investing in employee mental health benefits results in significant cost savings, including:

Lower health plan spending – An independent study by professional services firm Aon shows better utilization, lower overall medical claims costs, and a lower incidence of inpatient and outpatient mental health spending among the surveyed employers that offer Lyra.

Better talent attraction and retentionMind Share Partners found that 50 percent of employees left a role due to mental health reasons in 2020—an astounding 47 percent increase from 2019. 

In Lyra’s 2022 State of Workforce Mental Health Report, 84 percent of surveyed U.S. workers said it’s at least somewhat important to them that a prospective employer offers employee benefits for mental health. And 59 percent said they would stay at a job because “it provides robust and comprehensive mental health benefits.” What’s more, employees who use their Lyra benefit are almost twice as likely to stay with their company over a 12-month period as those who don’t use the benefit.

Increased productivity – Most people who receive treatment for depression (86 percent) report improved work performance, as well as high levels of job satisfaction. Studies show depression treatment can reduce absenteeism and presenteeism by 40 to 60 percent. Lyra’s research echoes these findings, with 70 percent of members in the clinical range on the Work Limitations Questionnaire (WLQ) who seek care with Lyra showing better productivity levels.

According to the World Health Organization, for every $1 spent on treating common mental health concerns, there’s a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. Given these results, it’s become clear that mental wellness benefits are a crucial part of a robust benefits package.

What to look for in a mental health benefit

All of this doesn’t mean that employers can just offer any mental health benefit for employees. They need a benefit that provides effective, high-quality care that helps people get better. 

Unfortunately, many mental health services available today are ineffective. For example, they use treatments that aren’t proven to work or connect people to providers without the training needed to treat their specific challenges, lack cultural awareness or competency, or provide care that isn’t personalized or engaging. As a result, the person continues to suffer and may give up on mental health care altogether.

In a crowded landscape of benefit providers, it can be hard to know how to evaluate an employee mental health benefit. Here are nine qualities to look for to ensure your employees have easy access to care that’s proven to get them better and help them thrive.

  1. Employees have easy access to care

    How easy is it for your employees to find mental health care? In a report from the National Alliance on Mental Health, 33 percent of survey respondents said they had trouble finding a mental health provider who would accept their insurance. People also face challenges like finding providers who are accepting new patients, have availability, and are located close to their home or work or offer virtual visits.

    Barriers to mental health treatment can be discouraging, leading some people to abandon their search. Quality mental health solutions for employers should provide quick and easy access to a provider, so people can get started on their care journey without facing needless delays. Having 24/7 care navigators to talk to is also essential because when someone needs help, they need it right away—especially when experiencing severe distress.

  2. Employees get the right care for their needs

    To help meet the needs of all employees, it’s important for mental wellness benefits to provide a spectrum of offerings. This includes the ability to support everyone, including employees with mild stress, employees with more specialized care needs (e.g., treatment for trauma or OCD), and those experiencing something more serious, such as a substance use disorder or suicidal thinking.

    Not all providers are trained to treat all disorders and challenges. Most work best with certain populations, so matching people to the right coaches, therapists, and physicians is critical for their recovery. Offering a full spectrum of specialists facilitates this. So does collaborative care between providers, especially when treating complex conditions.

    Your mental health benefits for employees should also support all family members, including family and couples counseling, and support for parents, children, and adolescents. The stress of finding a good mental health practitioner for a child and caring for them while they’re struggling often affects the employee’s own mental health, too.

  3. Care is personalized based on each person’s unique needs

    Mental health care should not be one-size-fits-all. Quality care is personalized and dynamic. As people progress through their treatment plan and show signs of improvement, they’re continually empowered with new skills and techniques to manage their particular challenges and symptoms. This ultimately leads to better engagement and better results.

  4. The treatment methods used are proven to work

    Evidence-based treatments (EBTs) have been rigorously tested in randomized controlled trials or a series of case studies and proven to improve symptoms. When mental health employer benefits don’t ensure providers are using EBTs in their treatment plans, employees may not get care that helps improve their symptoms. This hurts employers, who end up paying for an ineffective benefit, not to mention employees, who may give up treating their mental health condition or need to seek care outside of their mental health employee benefit.

  5. Treatment effectiveness is backed by peer-reviewed clinical studies

    To show the efficacy of treatment, a mental wellness benefit should have peer-reviewed research on the specific treatments it offers. Each treatment should be verified through multiple studies, and research should be ongoing to ensure treatment outcomes remain effective.

  6. The mental health benefit documents measurable, meaningful improvement

    To ensure that the mental health benefit you offer is effective, it’s essential to confirm that you’re getting the outcomes you’re paying for. And that doesn’t happen with the traditional, fixed-fee, per-employee per-month model most EAPs use.

    Rather than paying every month regardless of whether employees use the program or not, look for a mental health benefit where everything you care about is connected to what you pay. That means a mental wellness benefits program where your employees are highly engaged, your health care costs drop, and you see real clinical data and proven outcomes—in real-time and through monthly and quarterly results.

    A quality mental health employer benefit provides anonymized, measurable outcomes that show improvement in employee symptoms—and this improvement should be clinically significant and lasting. Be sure to focus on clinical assessments, not just people’s ratings of their provider.

  7. The employee mental health benefits connect people to a diverse, culturally responsive network of providers

    A diverse workforce requires a diverse network of mental health providers. When considering mental health benefits for employees, make sure yours can help match members with the best provider for their identities and lived experiences. Providers should practice culturally responsive care, which acknowledges and respects people’s diverse backgrounds and how their intersectional existence in the world shapes their unique experience and mental health needs. 

    Research shows that culturally responsive care can strengthen the client-provider relationship, so treatment is more effective. However,  lack of racial and ethnic diversity among providers is one of the top reasons people of color don’t seek care. Similarly, LGBTQIA+ individuals are more likely to experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety but are also more likely to face stigma and discrimination than heterosexual people when seeking any type of health care.

    Effective mental health benefits networks are:

    • Exclusive and thoroughly vetted to ensure access to clinical outcomes metrics, real-time capacity data, and curation of every provider’s performance
    • Trained to address a variety of specialized needs
    • Globally available so employees working in other countries can access the care they need
    • Diverse in ethnicity, race, and background so employees can find a provider that they feel comfortable with
    • Trained in culturally responsive care, so employees have a safe space to process all of their experiences, including those influenced by their cultural identities 
    • Practice evidence-based treatment methods 

    Providers in Lyra’s network, for example, say referrals better fit their practice and expertise, which helps them deliver the right amount of goal-oriented care. They have less paperwork, earn fair market rates, and get continuing education, especially around evidence-based treatments. This all contributes to higher-quality care.

  8. The provider network is closely monitored

    Mental health providers are just as human as their patients. Even those that have been trained in evidence-based practices may stray from their proper use over time. Your mental health employer benefits vendor should provide ongoing training, mandatory clinical outcomes reporting, active tracking of provider performance, and monitoring of diversity to ensure evidence-based care is being consistently and appropriately provided to employees.

  9. The mental health benefit offers organizational development tools that help companies build cultures of mental wellness

    To help support mental health, businesses can move beyond traditional EAPs and provide better mental wellness benefits, resources, corporate policies, and mental health literacy programs. All of these will help create a culture where people feel safe to talk about mental health and seek the help they need.

    On the other hand, companies can also worsen workforce mental health by creating stressful and unhealthy work environments. This can result in burnout and a higher likelihood that workers will experience work-related distress, discrimination, or lack of fairness, inclusion, and limited psychological safety.

    Moving beyond traditional EAPs and medical plans to comprehensive mental health employee benefits can improve mental health for everyone in the organization—not just those who know they need help. For example, a lot of employees don’t need professional care, but could still benefit from a supportive work environment and tools to stay mentally healthy, like resilience training and stress management. For those who need treatment but aren’t ready to reach out, fostering a dialogue about mental health can encourage them to seek help when they need it. This can be especially true with marginalized groups who’ve historically been underserved or mistreated by the mental health system. 

    Your employee benefits for mental health can also support those who need mental health support but don’t have the tools to recognize and address this need. These employees often have little to no awareness of mental health issues and needs, or they may be deterred from seeking help due to stigma. Learning and development tools that improve mental health literacy and a culture that normalizes talking about mental health will help educate and inform them.  

    Look for a benefit that teaches companies how to:

    • Design work in a way that mitigates the risk of employee burnout and boosts engagement through recognition, mentorship, and other approaches
    • Promote mental health literacy throughout the workplace through easily accessible eLearning programs and on-demand interactive courses, so employees can thrive and reach out for help when needed
    • Improve mental health awareness by updating policies and procedures, launching campaigns to normalize conversations about mental health, and encouraging company leaders to model healthy behaviors
    • Foster social connection and a sense of belonging by training employee resource group leaders to promote mental health or bringing in clinical experts to start a dialogue around mental health issues
    • Use data to understand the value of your employee mental health benefits through a wellness dashboard, quarterly business reports, and other tools

High need, high reward

Making mental health a strategic priority across your organization is one of the best ways to attract top people, retain them, and help them thrive. It helps your business flourish, too. Employers that support mental health see a return of $4 for every dollar invested in mental health treatment, according to research from the National Safety Council and NORC at the University of Chicago. And companies that transform their work cultures and provide easy access to high-quality mental health benefits will have happier, healthier, more productive, more loyal employees.      

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About the author
Meghan Vivo

Meghan Vivo is a content marketing strategy manager at Lyra Health, where she helps transform mental health care through education, outreach, and storytelling. She has a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Irvine, with a minor is psychology and a juris doctor degree from Syracuse University. Meghan has worked in health care marketing for 15 years, specializing in behavioral health.

7 of December 2023 - 11 min read
Mental health at work
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