Liz Sheffield

How to Address Barriers to Mental Health Care in Your Workplace

Employees don’t leave their mental health struggles at the door when they arrive at work. Although not always obvious to colleagues, around 1 in 5 U.S. adults — roughly 46.6 million people in total — are dealing with mental health issues.

Despite the prevalence of these issues, most health education focuses on the physical side of health care. This only exacerbates the fact that mental health care is often less accessible to employees, which makes it even more critical for employers to understand why employees with mental health concerns struggle to seek out care.

Removing the Stigma Around Mental Health

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 8 in 10 employees with a mental health condition say shame and stigma deter them from seeking treatment. These workers may worry that sharing will jeopardize their job or their reputation. Just as avoiding a trip to the doctor after you’ve been injured can slow the healing process, forgoing necessary mental health care only generates more issues later on.

Employers can help remove the stigma by making mental health a priority. Discussing mental health should feel as normal as talking about a broken leg or the flu. One story from Harvard Business Review demonstrates the power of a supportive work environment: An employee knew that switching her antidepressant medication might affect her mood and requested some extra support at work. The manager, who also happened to be the CEO, responded with a reassuring, “You got it.”

Incorporate mental health topics into wellness programs and offer training to leaders on the best way to promote mental health care in daily conversations.

Offering Accessible Health Care Through Local In-Network Providers

For employees with mental health issues, the time and effort required to find the right provider might deter them from seeking the care they need. Even for those with access to in-network providers, employees sometimes have to wait several weeks to meet with a provider. Other times, providers simply aren’t accepting new patients at all.

Work with your health care provider to increase the number of in-network mental health providers for inpatient and outpatient services. For remote employees in particular, consider including providers who offer mental telehealth services, and make sure that all provider directories and mental health benefits resources are up-to-date and available to plan participants in a variety of formats.

Making Mental Health Treatment More Affordable

There’s another reason employees may avoid treatment: cost. Copays and deductibles add up quickly when treatment includes regular therapy appointments, medication or treatment programs. Your insurance plan should offer employees coverage for checkups, visits to specialists, emergency care and hospital stays. It’s also a good idea to regularly review your health plan’s copays and other costs related to health care employees might encounter.

As one employee said in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR), mental health costs can quickly become prohibitive. She had been regularly seeing a mental health provider to manage her borderline personality disorder and addiction problems for a price of $25 per session. When the provider stopped accepting her insurance, her rate jumped to $110 per session.

“I make $30,000 a year,” she told NPR. “I can’t afford an out-of-pocket therapist or psychiatrist. I just can’t afford it. I’m choosing groceries over a therapist.”

The employee called nearly a dozen other providers, but none accepted her insurance. Don’t let your employees fall into the same hole — look at the number of in-network mental health providers included in a given plan as you expand or update your benefits package.

To use your plan’s offerings, employees need to be able to navigate the system successfully. Make sure employees understand basics of their plan’s mental health coverage, and curate resources to answer their coverage questions with in-person sessions, online content or a benefits plan helpline.

Whether it’s due to the stigma associated with mental health, limited access to providers or prohibitive treatment costs, employees might have good reason for not seeking out necessary mental health treatment. Demonstrating that this type of care is a worthwhile investment helps shift perceptions and reduce stigma. You can change the conversation about mental health in the workplace, putting peace of mind within reach of your entire staff.

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