As states cautiously re-open and medical professionals brace for a potentially busy summer caring for people infected with COVID-19, protests have flared up nationwide sending hundreds of thousands of people into the streets to demand justice and systemic change. With emotional and physical stress already high from the fear, change and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, the additional grief and trauma of the current social unrest, could trigger a further increase in the already anticipated higher need for mental healthcare.
Prior to protests, the potential increase in mental health care related to the pandemic was being referred to the “fourth wave” of the pandemic. With the addition of social unrest, the need for mental health care at the individual level may be further normalized and further increase demand that intensifies existing shortages of mental health resources. Employers have the opportunity to help mitigate an increase in mental health conditions by improving support through their benefits, culture and health promotion efforts. The adoption of technology and new offerings that streamline the mental health care experience (such as telehealth) also promise to increase the capacity and efficiency of mental health care.
Employers should continue to communicate and promote the use of their existing employee assistance program (EAP) and consider enhancing their current offering by increasing the number of covered visits. An employer’s health insurance benefit can be another way to offer more intensive behavioral health support to employees and plan members. It is important to confirm that network and allowed benefits are accessible and include counseling services; it is common that networks do not have many providers that are geographically nearby and/or have timely appointments available. When there is poor accessibility in the design of this benefit, members may give up on treatment and/or end up paying for services out of pocket which leaves needs unmet or unsatisfying. Online or phone counseling is quickly becoming a solution to overcome the present limitations of the mental health care delivery system and can be added to the health benefit or re-communicated as an option to members. Recently funded behavioral health start-ups (such as Spring and Lyra) serving the employee benefits space have been releasing innovative apps that use predictive analytics with a thoughtfully designed user experience that identifies and connects members to the level of care, support and navigation that they need. Additionally, third party, non-profit crisis lines are always available and can be displayed in the worksite and/or part of manager training.
Health management programs, including employee wellness, can help bolster the physical and mental health and resilience of employees and health plan members. Leveraging health management resources to help employees improve their diet, sleep and exercise routines and interpersonal relationships can contribute to enhanced mood and functioning. Health management solutions that address social, financial and lifestyle concerns can improve overall mental health and wellness. Finally, supporting members with chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol, is important to ensure that they get the care they need and prevent higher costs associated with chronic disease-related care. Employers can often provide disease management support with select programming available from carriers or standalone programs or apps. Please see our previous article, Beyond health insurance costs: Understanding and addressing population health risks related to COVID-19, to understand more about the importance of taking care of physical health, especially during the pandemic.
In addition to physical resilience and mental health, general resilience of the mind is a globally protective attribute. Resilience can be taught and increased with programs that include mindfulness and/or some sort of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Multiple mobile applications have recently been developed and deployed (sometimes included as part of the healthcare benefit) through health insurance carriers. These programs are a great option for employees and plan members because they can be used on one’s own time and in privacy. Changing attitudes and acceptance about having mental health conditions and/or seeking support can help encourage employees to get the mental health care they need. Working to destigmatize mental health in the workplace can help create an open and supportive environment to process and cope with change and is a less resource-intensive non-program option that employers can pursue. Please see our previous article, Support workplace mental health to improve employee satisfaction and productivity while reducing costs to understand more about workplace mental health
For more information about supporting employees’ mental health, contact us.
Risk management and human resources are traditionally two different job functions, and the people in these areas have rarely crossed paths — but that is changing.
Why are these people starting to work together more frequently?
Biometric screenings top the list of wellness tools that employers use today, according to MetLife’s 2014 U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study. After biometrics, employers use other types of wellness programs as follows:
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