by Ken Cahill, Chief Behavioral Health Officer at Amwell
The conversation about mental health in the workforce has shifted significantly in the last three years. It wasn't that long ago that most companies shied away from openly discussing behavioral health in truly any form.
Today, though, it’s a full-fledged focus area for many companies. Post-pandemic, the importance of mental well-being is discussed on company intranets, in Slack channels and town hall meetings worldwide. Plus, more companies say they're expanding the mental health benefits they offer. But it’s time to move beyond the rhetoric that it’s “okay to not feel okay” to meaningful access to effective mental health care.
Recently, Amwell surveyed 1,500 U.S. workers about their health plans. An alarming 85 percent of respondents said they aren't using the behavioral health benefits their plan provides. That's critical support left unused by many of the 50 million Americans struggling with mental health and nearly one in three living with depression.
If businesses now openly discuss behavioral health and companies are expanding their benefits in this area, why are so many workers failing to get proper treatment and support? Survey respondents cited two reasons for the disconnect: awareness and access.
Barrier 1: Awareness
More than half of the participants surveyed said they don't know if they have any mental health coverage in their benefits package or if their company even offers it. Fortunately, employers have an annual window of opportunity during open enrollment to make sure their workers are informed.
Details about mental health services can be scarce but employers can easily boost awareness with a dedicated overview of behavioral health benefits. With clear information about what's covered and specific details for how to access plan benefits, workers will know how to seek behavioral health treatment when they need it.
One more thing: For employers that offer plans without mental health benefits, I suggest it's time to stop thinking about physical and mental health separately. Instead, we should view it all as simply health. After all, when we ignore our mental health, it can lead to a barrage of physical symptoms.
Barrier 2: Access
Another factor preventing workers from getting proper treatment is difficulty accessing care. More than 60 percent of Americans live in a county that doesn't have a psychiatrist within their borders. In-person visits aren't always a convenient option for many employees. Plus, the shortage of mental health providers means workers may face a longer wait for an in-person visit – in some cases after meeting their plan's mandatory waiting period – which only prolongs their symptoms.
When we combine the factors of geography and time limitations with the 40 percent of survey participants who said their behavioral health needs have increased since the pandemic, it's clear that access and coverage for in-person visits are no longer enough. Employers and providers must offer more hybrid care solutions.
Most survey respondents shared this sentiment and expressed their desire for additional options. Two-thirds of participants said they're likely to use a mental health benefit if they can access it any time on a smartphone or device. Nearly 40 percent said they want the option to chat or text with a provider.
By giving workers access to hybrid care mental health solutions, they can benefit from the flexibility of virtual counseling and online care programs, engage with chat-based solutions, or continue with in-person visits. The provider's location, limited appointment times and a shortage of clinicians no longer stand in the way of workers getting the support and care they need.
How employers can remove the barriers to mental health treatment and support
The corporate world has taken meaningful strides to be more open about mental health in the workplace and offer better benefits in this area. The next hurdle is to remove the barriers to mental health care that stem from awareness and access to effective care.
Employers can eliminate these barriers by focusing on employee education and going beyond traditional mental health coverage to offer hybrid care solutions. These steps will also address other factors stopping workers from getting proper treatment such as geography, limited appointments and the clinician shortage.
Employees are our most important asset. We shouldn’t confine their mental health options to in-person care. Instead, we should empower them with access to hybrid solutions so they can get the care they need when they need it. Their mental well-being may depend on it. And they’re counting on our support.
To see more survey results, download the full whitepaper.