Employers are shelling out tons of dough for workers with mental health conditions
An FKD Feature exclusive

Did you know that the amount of money that companies spend on employees is rising rapidly? And, in large part, it is due to a slow but sure increase in mental-health expenditures. Things like depression, bipolar disorder and even substance abuse are costly to cover. The average person suffering from depression submits about $15,000 in claims each year. That’s approximately three times the amount of an unafflicted worker!

A change of heart … somehow

Call it chance, blackmail, business tactics or good old fashioned empathy, but at long last employers are beginning to see depression and its ilk as potentially just as severe as things like cancer or diabetes. And the proof is in the proverbial pudding as employers are spending major cash on the affliction. In a survey of 687 companies, 57 percent of employers said they were planning on focusing on mental health “to a very great extent” within the next three years.  “Employers are increasingly recognizing … the importance of taking care of health, well-being and mental health,” Darcy Gruttadaro, director of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation’s Center for Workplace Mental Health told CNBC.

Over the past five years, mental-health costs for employers have increased 10 percent annually, and the spike might not be such a bad thing. Healthy workers tend to be more productive, dependable and overall better employees. And as people get healthier, the surge in medical costs should eventually go back down: “Overall, this is not a bad news story,” Mark Friedlander,  chief medical officer for Aetna Behavioral Health, told CNBC. “As things expand on the behavioral health side, there may overall be benefits on the medical cost side.”

Help is on the way!

It has been shown that when employers provide adequate mental health access to employees, it actually ensures, or renders more likely, that their workers will stay with the company longer. One of the issues has been identifying those employees who need help most of all. This responsibility has increasingly, in recent years, fallen to things like company bot services that employees can text if they feel they need help. One such service is called Tess. It was built by clinical psychologists and uses artificial intelligence to coach users.

“Mental health has always suffered from stigma and the very substantial problem of access, too,” Jeff Levin-Scherz, national co-leader of the Willis Tower Watson’s health management practice told CNBC. “And what I see amongst my clients, who are mostly large employers, is increasing concern about the issue and the increasing desire to offer something.”

The problem isn’t contained to the mental health of a worker, either. Depression can lead to severe neglect of physical health. This may lead to things like heart disease, acute weight gain and diabetes.

Employers are finally aware of the troubles that can come from untreated mental conditions. Many are beginning to cover the cost of subscriptions to relaxation and meditation apps like Headspace and Calm. Others are offering Sleepio, an app that scores users’ sleep habits and teaches them cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to improve their sleep. Other companies are trying to change their corporate culture to reduce workplace stress and improve employee resilience.

Takeaway

Taking initiatives to deal with employee mental health  is an important first step for employers. What also needs to happen is a total reimagining of the modern workplace. The workplace should espouse a culture of health, a culture of compassion and a culture of psychological safety from the top down. That means training everyone from CEOs to middle management on how to identify, address and hopefully assist their employees with mental-health conditions.

 

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Posted 10.17.2018 - 09:00 am EST