By Jerry Ford, CEO of MarathonHealth
Mental Health America has found that depression ranks among the top three workplace problems for employee assistance professionals, coming in third behind family crisis and stress. Despite this issue, Mental Health America finds that depressed employees often don’t seek treatment due to confidentiality concerns and fears of the affect their diagnosis will have on their job. Ben Congleton, CEO of Olark, made headlines when praising an employee for taking time to focus on her mental health. Building on Congleton’s congenial gesture, senior leadership should ensure that all employees mind their mental well-being and take the time they need to stay healthy. With this in mind, here are three key steps employers can take to make a measurable difference in improving the mental health of their workforce:
1. Identify a need for mental health services and address those needs. A crucial first step companies can take to assess the health of their workforce is to identify the population in need of assistance—learning who they are, how many there are, and what their pain points are. Sheetz, a privately held convenience store chain, saw the need for integrating mental health services into their healthcare plan after costs for mental healthcare continued to increase. Bill Young, director of total rewards, talent acquisition and risk management at Sheetz, noted that, “three of our top 25 prescriptions relate to behavioral health. It was clear that this needed our attention and that our traditional telephonic EAP solution was underutilized.” Coupling this with the fact that behavioral health was identified as the second leading condition for intervention behind musculoskeletal issues, Sheetz added mental health services as part of their comprehensive onsite health management program in 2014.
2. Offer a convenient, uplifting way for employees and their families to receive help that eliminates stigma. Nothing is more important than meeting your employees where they are, especially when the issues they are facing are sensitive in nature. After identifying the need for mental health services, Sheetz launched a pilot program to address rising behavioral health concerns and improve overall participation in EAP programs. Confidential, free, onsite counseling was offered on a part-time basis for employees and dependents but quickly turned into a full-time service and later expanded to their distribution facility in North Carolina. By offering convenient and confidential counseling that builds trustworthiness, employees and their families are more receptive to receiving mental healthcare and therefore more likely to be treated than to continue to suffer in silence.
3. Motivate employees to take stock of their mental health from the top down. Full integration of mental health services via onsite health centers does not come overnight and relies heavily on senior leadership carrying the conversation. As we found with Ben Congleton’s words of encouragement, a personal reminder to take care of your health goes a long way. At Sheetz, employees are also made aware of the mental health program by way of newsletter stories, departmental meetings, lunch-and-learns, and executive support. Leaders like Bill Young will note that, “it is the right thing to do,” but beyond being the right thing to do—these services produce results. Seventy percent of employees require no further referrals after completing prescribed sessions, and the program has contributed to patient satisfaction rates averaging 98 percent overall. Of those needing a referral for more specific treatment, the counselors are able to assist them in providing the appropriate local resources.
An important conversation has started that we cannot afford to let die out and must act upon. By identifying those who need assistance, meeting them at the point of care, and motivating all to see the importance in their mental health starts with those who are willing to lead the conversation for actionable change.
Jerry Ford is the CEO of Marathon Health, a provider of onsite health centers that enable employers to optimize the health of their workforce and business.. Ford spent 15 years as vice president of operations at IDX Systems Corporation, where he was responsible for 300 large and complex healthcare delivery system customers.