While more and more companies are prioritizing mental health services over a severely burned-out workforce, many employers are still falling short.
According to a study by Willis Towers Watson, about half of employers will not have a formal mental health benefit plan by 2022, and employee assistance programs remain underutilized — the national usage average is even below 6%. And yet, 46% of American workers have admitted to struggling with mental health problems, according to insurance company The Standard.
Where have employers gone wrong? On EBN’s Workplace Strategies Agenda, India Gomez, a clinical psychologist and consultant advisor based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and John Troutman, national marketing director for EAP provider Mazzitti & Sullivan EAP Services, revealed the steps companies can take to ensure their EAPs are accessible and supportive in the trajectory of employees in mental health care.
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And it starts with dismantling the stigma surrounding mental health problems that permeates the work world.
“No advantage solves everything,” says Troutman. “But when leaders share their own experiences, those barriers are removed that to some extent will always be there with mental health.”
For Troutman, engaged leadership and transparency are key to any mental health benefits plan, or EAP. Leaders should be trained not only to discuss sensitive topics or concerns with their team members, but also to share their personal struggles and even their paths to care.
As Troutman pointed out, employees have a lot more confidence in an EAP if they know someone in the company who has successfully accessed it. Employees will also be more attracted to EAPs if they are designed with them in mind. For example, Troutman recalled a client who recently hired Amish employees, and instead of keeping telecare as the primary access point, Troutman’s team worked to increase the number of physical clinics in the employer’s network.
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To further normalize it, Gomez noted that employers can offer EAPs that also address various aspects of mental health, covering topics such as family caregiving, personal development, coping with stress, and self-actualization. This helps normalize mental health care as another way people can take care of themselves, rather than a character flaw, Gomez explained.
“I really encourage clients to view both mental health and physical health care as part of wellness,” she said. “You don’t have to be sick and you don’t have to be in crisis to stick to these things.”
Gomez and Troutman both agreed that EAPs can serve as powerful introductions to mental health if done right — or it can be a disappointment, especially if that worker needs long-term care.
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“How to transition people to more adequate long-term care and help them navigate care systems — that seems to be lacking at the systemic level,” Gomez said. “There are all these barriers to care. And that can also be something EAP companies and employers are thinking about, and it’s not just the clinician.”
When Troutman works with employers on their EAPs, one of the first things his company determines is that any mental health provider offered through EAP is also covered by the company health plans. When an employee does not have health insurance, Troutman’s team will contact the employer and, without disclosing the employee’s identity, ask if the employer is willing to make a financial contribution. “Almost every time the employers are willing to contribute or cover those extra sessions because they are also genuinely interested in that person’s success,” he said.
Gomez and Troutman believe that well-supported EAPs have the potential to kickstart mental health care for employees who may not have a clue where to start or what resources are available to them. But employers must create EAPs with intent and transparency.
“EAP providers can support them at the first point of contact during these covered sessions,” says Troutman. “They can support them in all the challenges we face.”