Workforce mental health is a hot topic. Employers around the globe are moving quickly to ensure benefits and services are in place to boost emotional well-being and meet the needs of increasingly stressed-out employees. But scenarios like the following are all too common — ask around… you’ll hear the stories.
Imagine this: You’ve acknowledged that you or a family member needs help from a behavioral health professional. However, this is new territory for you, and you’re not exactly sure what’s involved. At this point, you’re probably exhausted from the stress of what you’ve been dealing with.
You call the therapist your friend recommends, but she’s not accepting new patients. So you try the 3 names your doctor gave you. Turns out only 1 is in-network for your health benefits; he might have an opening in about a month and will put you on a waiting list or refer you to other therapists who may or may not have openings or take your insurance. Now what?
The most innovative, comprehensive behavioral health services won’t help if employees and families aren’t aware of or don’t understand what’s available, can’t find a provider, or perceive a stigma that stops them from seeking care. Even those who are benefits savvy may hit a wall when it comes to actually booking a session.
Access to Care
The US is experiencing a crisis-level shortage of licensed mental health practitioners; it’s predicted to worsen, with an expected shortfall of 250,000 by 2025. To get an idea of your local situation, check the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Mental Health Care Provider Shortage Area table and map; it shows the percentage of need being met by area and number of providers required to no longer have a shortage.
Online therapy, called telemental or telebehavioral health, is a fast-growing solution to make mental healthcare more convenient, appealing, and available. People uncomfortable with the idea of in-person therapy may be open to trying it in the privacy of home. And studies show remote mental health services are at least as effective as the traditional in-person format. If your employer’s benefits don’t already include telebehavioral health, explore the options and promote adding it.
Boosting Emotional Well-Being: What to Do
Though there’s no simple solution to the provider shortage, there’s a huge opportunity to foster emotional well-being by making mental health services more appealing and helping more people get the care they need. A few ideas:
Launch an initiative to remove the stigma as well as barriers to information and access.
Tap your EAP provider and local behavioral health leaders for expertise and resources:
Demystify therapy. People who’ve never participated in therapy can have all kinds of misconceptions about what really goes on and what the process is like. Contrary to common belief, a good therapist isn’t going to start off by asking about your relationship with your mother.
Publicize how mental health services can help. Many people feel they should be able to shake persistent feelings of worry and sadness on their own; symptoms by nature can be insidious and tough to recognize. Well-being communications throughout the year should include signs and symptoms of common issues like anxiety, depression, and stress, along with treatment options.
Emphasize quality of life. Let employees know they don’t need to have a serious mental illness to benefit from therapy; it can also address areas of life where they’re stuck, help them get past roadblocks to personal goals, and change patterns to improve health, well-being, and satisfaction.
Help workers find the right therapist.Many won’t have the luxury of choosing among several licensed providers for the best fit. But offering guidance about what to look for gives them something to go on. Yes, EAP services are good at triage and referral… but with dismally low rates of utilization, providing other paths to get plugged in makes sense.
Make sure resources are easy to find and use, not buried deep within your EAP’s password-protected platform. Instead, circulate a simple message like this along with a phone number and link: “Need help with emotional well-being? Start here.” Put it everywhere… your wellness program and benefit websites, emails, internal social media and messaging apps, refrigerator magnets, and more.
Foster emotional intelligence.
This malleable skill helps people acknowledge, understand, and regulate their own emotions, sense them in others, and successfully manage relationships. Your program could include opportunities to learn about and develop higher levels of emotional intelligence.
How about challenging participants to track daily acts of kindness or moments of self-compassion, too?
Offer onsite mental health first-aid classes.
Training your workforce to recognize and respond to mental health crises increases workplace safety for everyone. It also promotes awareness of mental well-being issues and available resources.
Use appealing names.
Call something a mental health program and many people will run the other way. Give it a friendlier title, like HealthPartners’ Building Emotional Resilience program, and you’ll get more takers.
Well-being consultant, educator, writer ｜ICHWC National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach ｜ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist ｜Lifestyle medicine advocate ｜25+ years in wellness ｜Jazz enthusiast.