Health benefits

The “wellness” of your employees’ mental health benefits

Truly inclusive mental health care today means offering a diverse pool of assistance that provides acute, preventive and chronic mental and behavioral health care. (Credit: Tadamichi/Adobe Stock)

We’ve all seen the statistics indicating the impact of the pandemic on employee mental health. With skyrocketing rates of depression and anxiety, and the Omicron variant leading to lingering uncertainties, mental health is becoming a top priority for corporate HR teams.

Because of this, we are seeing employers prioritizing and investing in mental health and wellness benefit offerings in ways we have never seen before. These benefits not only set businesses apart at a time when employee recruitment and retention are more important than ever, but are also becoming critical to the health of their employees and their business.

As a practicing psychiatrist on the front lines of this burgeoning mental health crisis, I implore benefits officials to heed a key element missing in the current conversation. Yes, we need to focus on selecting health benefits, but we need to make sure inclusion is a central part of the conversation. While more than half of employers say focusing on DE&I in their company is a high priority, does this translate to the mental health and wellness benefits they deliver? Are their benefits inclusive enough to meet the unique needs of these different types of employees who make up our workforce today?

Much of what has been discussed to date around the topic of “inclusion” in mental health has focused on the importance of programs that deny employee isolation and encourage relationships. This is important, but we must go further. Just as there is no one-size-fits-all approach to health care and health care delivery, behavioral health delivery needs to be designed with a personalized and more inclusive approach. Only then can companies recruit, retain and support a healthier and more productive workforce. Here are the key considerations for providing inclusive benefits:

Provide culturally appropriate mental health care. Consider the diversity of your workforce. Employees from historically underserved communities face unique mental health issues that deserve to be treated with culturally congruent or culturally competent care.

The numbers show why it’s so important. Today, 5.5% of Americans identify as LGBTQ+ and those numbers are growing. As the younger population enters our workforce, one in six adult members of Gen Z will consider themselves to be something other than heterosexual. When it comes to mental health, research shows that members of the LGBTQ+ community are two to four times more likely to suffer from a mental health issue.

Additionally, African American adults are 20% more likely to report severe psychological distress than white adults. Seeking mental health care can be stigmatized within many black communities, with only one in three African Americans receiving proper treatment and a significant portion being misdiagnosed at unacceptable rates. Equally alarming, Asian American populations have the lowest mental health help-seeking rates of any racial or ethnic group.

When designing their benefits plans, leaders, managers, and benefits advisors need to consider the cultural impact and diversity of providers their employees can access. Research shows that when a mental health professional understands and respects an employee’s identity and the role cultural differences play in diagnosing an illness, it dramatically improves outcomes.

Embrace virtual mental health care. Health care delivery shifted at the start of the pandemic towards an increase in care delivery via telehealth and the trend continues. Specific to mental health services, the use of virtual care has increased in all regions of the United States over the past two years. Now, companies say offering virtual behavioral health and wellness solutions and benefits as a key priority moving forward. Virtual care is well positioned to meet this burden. Once seen as a way for employees to get faster access to mental health professionals, virtual care offers a scalable solution to the growing demand for mental health services across the country.

Play the long game. Let’s be clear. Mental health support cannot be defined as a one-time transactional experience providing access only to a mental health professional. Unfortunately, many workers today believe that access to comprehensive care is limited. In a recent poll, we found that 60% of Americans agree that the current healthcare system needs to provide better access to mental health.

What does this “better access” look like? Truly inclusive mental health care today means offering a diverse pool of assistance that provides acute, preventive and chronic mental and behavioral health care. Think coaching, personalized wellness plans, therapy, psychiatry and medication management. Equally important, care must be coordinated, ensuring that behavioral and mental health professionals have the ability to integrate with employees’ primary care physician. The objective is not only a diagnosis. Instead, employers must offer benefits that provide support and services throughout an employee’s care journey.

In today’s big quit, employee well-being is cited as a major cause of employee leaving the workplace. Key to a company’s ability to recruit and retain employees will be a benefits package that includes mental health options that give members access to the comprehensive, culturally appropriate care they need.

Nikole Benders-HadiMD, is Senior Medical Director of Behavioral Health at Include Health.