Employee’s Mental Wellness – Issue or Not An Issue?

Employee’s Mental Wellness – Issue or Not An Issue?


Mental health and wellness often gets overlooked in the workplace. Most company’s wellness programs focus on helping employees improve behaviors – focused on clinical measures, but not necessarily mental health. Measuring mental health can be tough and support within the workplace is challenging. However, your employees’ mental wellness is a key component to their overall well-being – both professionally and in their personal space.

According to Jeffrey Kahn M.D., and Alan Langlieb, M.D., in their book, Mental Health and Productivity in the Workplace: A Handbook for Organizations and Clinicians, symptoms of depression have a fivefold or greater increase in time lost from work compared to those without symptoms of depression. This is staggering. To make matters worse, only half of these individuals receive professional treatment. One major reason they don’t get the mental care they need is because their health insurance doesn’t include specific mental health coverage.

So What’s Happening?

Employees show up to work every day focused on being productive, meeting the goals and contributing to their team. However, those with a mental illness lack focus, which impacts productivity, job abandonment, absenteeism and will likely increase your turnover. Unfortunately, more than one in five Americans has a diagnosable mental disorder in his/her lifetime, which we all know is brought into the workplace at some point and impacts their ability to focus on their job.

Nearly half of the U.S. population is covered by employer-sponsored health insurance and a large majority of those employers provide mental health insurance, but they impose more restrictive limits on that coverage than on the medical and surgical coverage they offer. Since the Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA) of 1996 prohibited employers from imposing different dollar limits on mental health coverage, employers increasingly have substituted higher copayments and deductibles for mental health care services than for other medical services. Additionally, many large employers have implemented self-funded plans that pay physicians and hospitals directly. The provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974 exempted most self-funded plans from state mandates that require uniformity in coverage for mental health services and other health care.

Even though depression and other mental health conditions are common and treatable, they remain a significant occupational health challenge for employers. How do you think this impacts your bottom line?

Medical utilization costs for individuals with mental health conditions are significantly higher than for those without them, and have been linked to a greater use of medical services rather than psychiatric services. Employers are still overwhelmingly underestimating the indirect costs of absenteeism, poor productivity, faulty products and flawed decision-making associated with mental health disorders, let alone the long-term impact on their employees – those with the mental issues and even those who work with them.

Focus on Employee Mental Wellness

Some employers are beginning to recognize productivity losses related to mental health conditions actually exceed the cost of effective treatment. This implication, along with the ever-present need to control overall health-related costs, is encouraging more and more employers to seek solutions for the loss of productivity due to depression and other mental health conditions. Effective strategies include:

  • The utilization of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to remove the stigma of mental health treatment and offset the cost differential, thereby encouraging employees to seek treatment.
  • Facilitation of mental health screenings for employees.
  • Employee education initiatives.

Enlisting the Help of Primary Care Physicians

Take time to focus on your employee’s mental health. Build these strategies into your wellness strategy and promote programs to support employees with mental and emotional wellness needs. Your employees will thank you for your commitment to their well-being and both your employees and your business will reap the rewards.

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