Workplace mental health plan

Mental health problems progress slowly from the shadows to the sunlight, but the progression is agonizingly slow.

Employers can play a big role in accelerating this pace. Through workplace programs, discussions, encouragement and empathy, companies can help mental health issues be accepted as prevalent chronic diseases.

“There are a lot of role models that companies can take on,” said Carrie Patzler, director of behavioral health at Capital Blue Cross. “Bringing the problem of behavioral health into the workplace as a thread running through company communications, normalizing it, reminding employees that we all need support, emphasizing the benefits the company has to deal with behavioral health—it’s all important.”

While the stigma associated with mental health issues is gradually decreasing, the prevalence of these issues is increasing.

According to a recent Blue Cross Blue Shield Health of America report, 6 of the top 10 health conditions for millennials are related to behavioral health. Given Gallup’s finding that millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) made up nearly half of the workforce in 2020 and are expected to account for 75% of it by 2025, that’s a big deal for employers.

So does the fact that about a fifth of the workforce has a diagnosable behavioral health condition, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This means that a company of 100 people may have 20 people who struggle with depression, anxiety, or other mental health challenges.

More of a mental issue

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that depression results in 200 million lost workdays annually, costing US employers $17 billion to $44 billion.

Most employers are aware of this issue, according to the January 2022 Willis Towers Watson survey, in which 86% of companies surveyed said they would focus on mental health needs in 2022. But only a quarter of these companies planned and implemented a wellness strategy.

No single action can remove all behavioral health risks in the workplace, but companies can consider many things when crafting a mental health plan.

First, explore allowing paid time off or sick days for burnout, stress, or a diagnosis of chronic anxiety or depression.

Second, after consulting with HR, encourage and participate in candid discussions of mental health—through meetings, educational resources, and/or updates with emails or articles on your company intranet.

“The adage is the ‘open door policy,’” said Patzler. “Well, swing that door open for mental health issues. You have one on one. Proactively check in with people.”

Third, offer employee assistance programs. Many companies, including Capital Blue Cross, have such programs to help people deal with financial or family stress, addiction, grief, and other mental health challenges.

Finally, put together a plan to form a complete formal strategy for maximizing employee mental health.

We can help

Capital Blue Cross invests in the mental health of its members, and is continually adding innovative resources to help. Over the past year, the health insurance company has:

  • Unveiled the Behavioral Health Toolkit for Employer Groups.
  • A dedicated mental health and wellness page has been added on the company’s website.
  • Help bring Neuroflow to market. Neuroflow helps users improve their mental health and better deal with anxiety, depression, and other mental health needs.

Even as your company moves forward on mental health issues, Patzler said it’s important to make one thing absolutely clear: Show your employees that you care.

“Don’t just reach out,” said Patzler. “Reach out. Ask them how they are doing, and what you can do to support them. Create open pathways to accommodations.”

(For more health and wellness news and information that can benefit your business and your employees,

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