One of the first things employers must grapple with when offering employees mental health support is stigma. Nearly every employee is from a different background (e.g., age, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) and deals with overcoming social stigma when accessing mental health resources.
A CBS News poll (1) conducted in the fall of 2019 reported 90% of respondents acknowledged the presence of social stigma and discrimination concerning mental illness. More than 30% stated that discrimination and stigma associated with mental illness have decreased over the past ten years, but 30% said that the situation remains unchanged.
A recent study reported 54% of employees feel uncomfortable discussing mental health issues with their supervisors, while 30% are fearful that reporting a mental health issue could impact their job security (6). Having open conversations about mental health, ensuring employer confidentiality, and reaffirming that those with mental illness are still valued are important ways to break down the stigma.
Do Find a Low Cost Service for Employees
Cost is also a significant factor to consider for mental health benefits. While some employees may not mind paying a copayment to access therapy or other care, more employees are much more likely to access benefits when they are available at little or no cost to them. A recent survey of American adults found that 42% (2) saw cost or poor insurance coverage as a barrier to accessing mental health care.
Employers should specifically examine employees’ share of costs before committing to a mental health resource for their workforce. If the cost prevents employees from using it, then the value it brings to the organization may not be worth the investment.
Don’t Make the Service Difficult to Use
There are, on average, 20 mental healthcare providers (3) for every 100,000 people, and 3 out of 4 counties report a “severe psychiatrist shortage” (4). Finding a mental health counselor with availability who lives nearby can be an enormous challenge — especially now that many employers are managing remote workforces who live in various regions nationwide.
Employers should look for solutions that can connect employees to licensed counselors no matter where they live within a few days. Optimal solutions will also allow employees to select a mental health counselor they feel most comfortable talking to (e.g., male/female) with translation capabilities, if needed.
Do Encourage Confidentiality and Culture
Guaranteeing employee confidentiality while using mental health resources and ensuring employees feel comfortable participating in activities that may be more public in nature (e.g., yoga classes, company wellness initiatives, etc.) is crucial to obtaining true value from employer-sponsored mental health benefits. Drafting internal policies and training managers to handle mental health information appropriately will foster a culture of respect for mental health issues and ensure that any employee disclosures will be treated sensitively and with discretion.
For more public-facing wellness initiatives, employers should consider benefit solutions that offer educational and employee communication components at no extra cost. 53%of employees (5) cite cultural barriers that prevent them from fully engaging in company-sponsored wellness activities including inconvenience and their employers’ lack of support for their participation. Hearing directly from company leadership that it is not only okay but strongly encouraged for them to engage in a wellness activity can make an enormous difference. Employers should look for wellness benefit providers that understand employee hesitancy when using these kinds of benefits and how to scale company-wide education and awareness programs to promote participation.
First Stop Health Virtual Mental Health
With Virtual Mental Health from First Stop Health, members have access to short-term, solution focused counseling 24/7. They are matched with a counselor that best supports their needs and can meet with them virtually from the comfort and safety of whatever space they choose. First Stop Health also uses engagement techniques to encourage utilization and remove the stigma. This service is free for members and their families to use, and completely confidential.