We are at a critical juncture in how we choose to address and tackle mental health issues at work, and in our larger society. There is no debate that the conversation is shifting.
Awareness about mental health issues is becoming mainstream with actors, musicians, sports celebrities, and even the British royal family raising their voices, sharing their stories, and making it “okay to not be okay.”
For most adults, mental health strikes will no doubt strike very close to home with nearly 1 in 4 suffering from a mental health challenge. These tailwinds are strong and certainly help tackle the long-standing barriers due to stigma, but nonetheless much work remains to be done.
How employers engage in tackling mental health issues will be a bellwether for change in 2020 and beyond. What does 2020 look like for employers and employees hoping to make real change in how we tackle mental health?
Let’s take a look.
A recent study performed by Mind Share Partners, SAP, and Qualtrics and reported in the Harvard Business Review found that less than half of adults felt that mental health was sufficiently prioritized at their company. Sixty percent of respondents acknowledged that they experienced mental health symptoms in the past year, and more than half had not spoken to anyone at work about their mental health challenges. In fact, as the HBR article highlights, employees were least comfortable addressing mental health issues with their senior leadership or HR representatives, this despite the fact that the survey also showed mental health issues affected all levels within the organization equally.
There have been some shining examples of true leadership in this area. Bernard Tyson, whose recent passing shocked and saddened so many in the healthcare world, was a tireless advocate for those with mental health, calling for us to address mental health on par with how we address physical health challenges. But clearly the research tells us that there is much more work to be done.
Reducing stigma and improving access remain major goals, but equally important is the need to ensure that we provide care to high-quality and evidence-based treatment in mental health. Let us not forget that there is indeed rich scientific evidence that should be the core foundation of any mental health treatment. It’s tremendous that we now have a plethora of behavioral health solutions reaching the market, but at the same time employers need to be discriminating in selecting those solutions that are backed by science, grounded in evidence and proven to actually make our patients, your employees, better. Have a high bar. Hold vendors to a high standard. Enough is not good enough.
Getting care that’s high quality but also easy to access and convenient is key. Technology-based solutions will help employers achieve that goal. In the National Business Group on Health’s 2020 Survey focused on Large Employers’ Health Care Strategy and Plan Design, 51% of employers noted that they would offer more virtual solutions in 2020, with mental health being one of the top use cases. In fact, 68% of employers expect to make online resources available and 28% will offer digital cognitive behavioral therapy solutions.
Tech-enabled treatment will soon be the rule, rather than the exception. By introducing more options for convenient, personalized consumer treatment, tech-enabled (and more effective) care coordination, we can increase transparency for how we measure “value.”
But… a word of caution. While increased access to technology is a gift, people have always, and will always, need people. Hybrid solutions that marry the best of technology with the best of human care delivery will be critical. And the real key will be having a breadth of solutions available and ensuring we direct the right employee to the right intensity solution for their particular clinical needs. Mental health is not a one-size-fits-all problem to solve.
We have to pay attention to what’s happening with our children. As today’s younger generation will be tomorrow’s workforce. And the challenges we are seeing today among college students will be the challenges we see among our own young employees in the coming years. what we know is that Millennials and Gen Z-ers are experiencing high rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. They are some of the most “connected” generations, yet the rates of loneliness and social isolation are high. College campuses are facing a crisis of mental health among students and they are struggling to keep up. There is a silver lining. Young adults are more open and comfortable talking about mental health than prior generations. They are more apt to seek help, and they appear eager to support one another as they address their mental health needs. We need to think holistically to ensure tomorrow’s workforce has the support it needs to flourish today.
Happier, healthier in 2020
According to the National Business Group on Health, mental health disorders globally cost $2.5 trillion each year and account for 62% of missed workdays. We owe it to ourselves to continue pushing forward to make a dent in these statistics. Employers are well-positioned to step forward and step up to drive a culture shift around mental health, raising awareness, reducing stigma and enabling employees to have access to high-quality care solutions that really help them feel better and be more productive employees. We can all agree that resources and time spent on mental health care are resources and time well spent if it means a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce of the future.