May 13, 2021

Mental Healthcare Is the Most Important Employee Benefit of 2021 — Here's Why

The Nava Team

As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, we're kicking off the conversation on this essential component of healthcare with a multi-part blog series. Stay tuned for key guidance on incorporating mental health into your benefits and culture, as well as insights from Fortune 100 HR leaders and mental health experts.

Let's be very clear about this: mental health is just as important as physical health. And we're not the only ones who think so. This year HR leaders across industries are ramping up their benefits strategies to prioritize mental health and wellness.

Mental health impacts all areas of work and life. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It can also make or break our ability to concentrate and deliver on our responsibilities.

Yet mental healthcare is still out of reach for many people. Of the 20% of working age adults living with mental health issues, more than 60% do not receive treatment.

So why is mental health such an essential piece in your employees' overall health plan in 2021? Read on to learn more about this benefit.

Why is mental health so important right now?

We're not the first to say it and we certainly won't be the last: the last year has been extremely difficult for everyone. The pandemic upended routines and motivated many to uproot or reevaluate their lifestyles.

Combined with a lack of social interaction, employees everywhere are now well-acquainted with feelings of burnout, hopelessness, and anxiety.

On top of that, it's been impossible to ignore the distressing headlines in the news cycle — from political upheaval to economic downturns to alarming global health updates. Watching these events unfold in real time has weighed on all of us.

Now that the vaccine rollout is picking up speed, many employers are building out their return-to-work strategies. But while coming back to the office may be a "light at the end of the tunnel" moment for some employees, others may see it as just another stressor in an already stressful time.

In short, offering mental health benefits can help ensure that your employees are able to emotionally process the last year and navigate the transition towards post-pandemic normalcy.

What do I need to know about mental health in the workplace?

Although mental health discussions are becoming more widely accepted in professional settings, there are still myths and misconceptions out there. So let's break this down.

  • Mental health issues are more common than you may think. An estimated 1 in 5 Americans manage some form of mental health challenge each year.
  • Symptoms aren't always visible. It looks different for each person. And due to stigma, your employees may feel uncomfortable being transparent about it.
  • Just like any other health issue, it has the potential to affect your employees' day-to-day lives. The same way that other chronic illnesses can cause good days and bad days, your employees' mental health may not be consistent. But untreated mental health issues can make it difficult for your employees to feel comfortable at work. Over time, this can impact productivity and lower morale.
  • Accommodating mental health is key to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. This is an important step towards creating a more welcoming environment for folks from all walks of life.
  • There's a strong relationship between mental and physical health. Over time, mental health difficulties can increase the risk of developing serious medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease or Alzheimer's. And in turn, people with chronic medical conditions are at a higher risk of developing depression. Taking care of your mind is taking care of your body. It really is that simple.

What's the business case for offering mental health support?

There's a clear business argument for offering these benefits, from employee engagement (56% of employees say anxiety impacts their work performance!) to overall cost containment (employers see an estimated $1 trillion in annual losses globally due to employees' untreated depression and anxiety!)

Although offering robust mental health benefits may seem like it's reserved for the country's largest employers, it's an important component of all employer-sponsored healthcare plans.

Ultimately this is an investment that can net you big cost savings over time. A report from the W.H.O. estimated that for every dollar spent on mental health treatment, there's a $4 return in improved health and productivity. A 400% return? We'll say it: that potential is just too huge to ignore.

And when employees find the right treatment plan, it has a big impact. Almost 86% of employees report improved work performance after getting treatment for depression.

This year reaffirmed the importance of mental healthcare — but then why is it still broken?

Let's face it: the status quo approach to mental healthcare isn't working.

One primary reason is the persisting stigma around receiving care, whether that be therapy, medication, or any other treatment plan. Many believe that it's reserved for people who are really struggling. But the truth is that everyone could benefit from some form of mental healthcare or wellness practices — and there's no shame in that.

Another major barrier lies in the cost and accessibility of care. A majority of employers already offer mental health support. In fact, about 81% of employers included it in their benefits plans in 2017.

But many employees are either unaware of these benefits, unsure of how to use them, or simply aren't able to afford them.

The cost of treatment can be an automatic deterrent. Mental health services aren't cheap; a single therapy session can cost anywhere from $50 to $150 on average.

Plus, mental healthcare is four to six times more likely to be out of network than medical or surgical care. Depending on where you live, that may not leave many options.

But while it may seem like the cards are stacked against us, we need to continue pushing forward towards the ultimate goal: the normalization of accessible mental healthcare.

As lofty a mission as this may seem, HR leaders can actually play a key role. By building an accessible, holistic mental healthcare plan for your employees, you've already done your part.

So where do we go from here?

If there's one thing to take away, it's this: Mental health is especially critical going into this upcoming renewal season — but if you want to maximize your plan's impact and employee value, you'll need a fresh approach.

Want to learn how you can build mental health into your benefits plan and workplace culture? Check out the other blogs in this series: The Ultimate Guide to Mental Health Benefits and Three Signs that Your Workplace Culture Values Mental Health.

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