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How HR pros are normalizing mental health conversations

Written by Jessica X. Hennessey. February 8, 2021.

Initiating conversations about mental health and substance use disorders (SUDs) can be difficult for clinicians and healthcare providers, not to mention human resources professionals. Yet, a growing number of HR pros are normalizing and encouraging conversations around mental health and whole-person health. Companies of all sizes and industries are offering classes and discussion groups and expanding their benefit designs to identify behavioral health issues, increase awareness of resources, and get people the care and support they need.

Many people suffer with behavioral health (mental health and substance use) issues that negatively impact their quality of life. Four in 10 adults suffer from depression or anxiety, while 53% say stress related to COVID-19 has affected their mental health, according to reports.  Experts expect the numbers to increase because of COVID-19. These challenges affect company morale and productivity, prompting companies to talk more openly about mental health and SUDs and encourage employees to take better care of themselves.

"Telemedicine, or virtual health, is one modality that is helping expand access to behavioral health networks while drastically reducing the time employees must wait  to access providers or other community resources."

A growing number of companies are including addiction treatment options and support in their benefits packages and some are relaxing network limits. This is increasingly important when you consider the skyrocketing number of opioid overdoses and the fact that 70% of people with SUDs are working.

Removing the stigma: normalizing mental health conversations

The trend toward HR professionals and managers intervening and guiding employees to take better care of themselves isn’t new. What is new is the way they’re approaching behavioral health and encouraging employees to use their benefits early and often. Telemedicine, or virtual health, has expanded access to behavioral health networks, while drastically reducing the time employees must wait to access providers or other community resources. Other services, like self-care videos, well-being calls, online meditation sessions, educational tools and dedicated breaks have been adopted by employers seeking to help employees manage stress and anxiety.

In addition to changing benefit designs to address mind, body, and spirit, HR professionals are widening the scope of their packages to help people find the best in-network providers, leading to lower out-of-pocket costs. They’re also adding services to help employees find and make appointments and providing support for families and caregivers.

At Alight, we work with our clients to improve access to these services and reduce the stigma often associated with mental health treatment. We’re already seeing a positive impact. Early results show participants are highly satisfied with the guidance they are getting to find quality care.

The need for these services is clear. Ninety-five percent of people who responded to a recent survey said they’d benefit from behavioral healthcare. Half of the respondents said they—or someone they knew—dealt with mental health problems in the last year. Few knew where or how to find help. This is where HR professionals—and their benefit designs—enter the picture.

Employers extending a helping hand

It’s encouraging to see employers enhancing and encouraging use of benefits for behavioral healthcare. And while there is a proven financial benefit to their actions, the primary driver for these investments is employee well-being, according to industry data. It’s a glimmer of good amid the pandemic gloom.

Sharing resources early and often with employees and families struggling with depression, anxiety, grief and loss, bipolar disorders, eating disorders, and SUDs improves the chances they’ll get the care they need. Offering services that connect them with providers—identifying in-network providers and making appointments—gets them even closer to that goal. It’s a game-changer that will set employers apart in their efforts to recruit and retain talent, their greatest asset.

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