Authors: Nicholas Lorenzo, MD MHCM CPE FAAPL | Chad Snyder, PhD LPC NCC
Some people seem to have it all. A glamorous job, picture-perfect family, lots of money, Insta-worthy vacations and more. But things are not always as they seem, and often we’re shocked to learn someone who seems to have a perfect life is fighting a difficult battle with depression, struggling with marriage or family problems or staring down another mental health issue. In the very worst cases, no one realizes that someone who “has it all” is in crisis until it’s too late.
Of course, we all can name movie stars, rock singers, professional athletes and other celebrities who have succumbed to psychiatric illness and/or substance abuse. More than that, nearly everyone has known an acquaintance, friend or loved one who has had a similar, sad experience with mental illness. Think about the local restauranteur who just launched his third location, the orthopedic surgeon who recently opened a brand-new surgery center or a school friend who is now the mayor of a growing suburb. I have known such individuals who, sadly, committed suicide in the past decade.
There is an old, but powerful, saying:
People spend too much time comparing their insides to other people’s outsides.
Stigma of Mental Illness
Unlike physical illness, the symptoms of mental health challenges may be harder to spot. Moreover, unlike physical illness, mental illness has long been stigmatized. While it’s acceptable to call in sick because you have a cold or flu, taking a “mental health day” still raises a few eyebrows.
Stigma or not, as business leaders, we have all witnessed the effects of mental illness in the workplace – and we’ve probably experienced challenges in our own lives. People are stressed out and burned out. They’re turning to alcohol and other substances to take the edge off. They’re having trouble sleeping, concentrating and coping.
Indeed, The National Business Group on Health reports that U.S. businesses lose more than 200 million workdays each year due to mental health conditions – or $16.8 billion in employee productivity. In indirect costs, the annual impact is estimated at an astounding $79-$109 billion a year.
And it’s only getting worse amid COVID-19.
Mental Health, COVID-19 a “Dual Pandemic”
The rise in mental health conditions alongside COVID-19 is being billed as a dual pandemic. In June 2020, a Centers for Disease Control survey revealed a whopping 40.9% of the 5,470 respondents reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition such as anxiety, depression, increased substance use and suicidal ideation. New research from Kaiser Family Foundation underscores those findings, with 45% of Americans reporting COVID-19 is harming their mental health.
The loss of life, financial insecurity and social isolation have worsened preexisting mental and emotional challenges. Meanwhile, the pandemic has created new-onset problems for people who had never before suffered mental illnesses. Of course, the 24-hour news cycle, social media and the nation’s political divide have magnified these problems exponentially.
It may not be obvious from the outside looking in, but employees may be dealing with “life or death” issues like severe depression, anxiety or thoughts of suicide.
Never has it been more important for them to have simple, convenient access to high-quality behavioral health services.
Yet in spite of the need, a shortage of mental health providers, extremely narrow insurance networks and high out-of-pocket costs create major barriers to accessing appropriate treatment.
This is where employers must step in.
The Virtual Therapy Solution
Telehealth exploded in the U.S. in response to COVID-19. It has gained widespread acceptance and continues to grow in popularity. Its scope, too, has expanded: Today, virtual care is filling major gaps in behavioral healthcare.
Not only does the virtual platform overcome the barriers of in-person care, but the medical literature has proven its efficacy in treating common issues like depression and anxiety – issues that pummel employee productivity and often lead to physical health problems.
Businesses play a critical role in improving access to mental health services their employees need – not only to boost the bottom line, but because it’s the right thing to do. First steps include:
Offer a Virtual Therapy Benefit
The virtual option also allows for a greater measure of privacy, which is important since many people may feel embarrassed or ashamed of their mental health concerns.
Proactively Communicate the Solution to Your Workforce
Offering the solution is step one – but you also need a strategy in place to communicate the advantages and ensure it’s top of mind when employees need it. Continuous mentions in employee newsletters, HR communications, the company intranet and town halls are great starting points.
Train Your Management on How Virtual Therapy Works
Educate company leaders so they understand the importance of mental wellness, the signs of mental and emotional challenges and the solutions your company offers.