If there’s a bright-side to COVID-19, it’s that people are taking mental health more seriously. This, in turn, is easing the stigma of mental health conditions and making it easier for people to open up about their challenges and seek necessary care.
Why does this matter to employers? For one thing, employee mental health is directly linked to the bottom line.
The CDC reports that depression alone accounts for 200 million lost workdays each year, costing businesses as much as $44 billion. What’s more, Tufts Medical Center and One Mind at Work estimate the annual average healthcare costs for an employee with depression exceeds $10,000 – more than twice the cost of an employee who is not suffering depression.
A Dual Pandemic
While the U.S. was facing a mental health crisis long before COVID-19, the pandemic has made matters much worse. In fact, the increases in burnout, stress, anxiety, depression and other mental and emotional challenges have been billed as a dual pandemic.
For example, a pre-pandemic Gallup report showed 75% of employees felt burned out some or all of the time. Today, that number has jumped to 83% according to Mental Health America’s 2021 Mind the Workplace report. Meanwhile, nearly nine in 10 employees say their workplace stress affects their mental health.
The Drawbacks of Remote Work
Before the pandemic, working from home was hailed as a solution for work/life balance, but everything changed in 2020.
A survey from Robert Half, a Los Angeles-based staffing firm, revealed nearly 70% of employees who transitioned to remote work during the pandemic now work on the weekends, while 45% report they work more hours each week than they did pre-COVID-19.
The long hours online, disconnection from co-workers and blurred work/life boundaries have strained the mental well-being of remote workers.
There are challenges for employers, too. For one, it’s harder to gauge workers’ mental health via email and Zoom than at the office or around the water cooler. Said simply, without eyes on their staff, employers are less tuned into the company climate or worker morale, diminishing their ability to intervene in time to make a difference.
Employers Taking Note
As the saying goes, the best offense is a good defense. When it comes to today’s stressed-out, burned-out workers, that means providing access to quality mental health services. The Business Group on Health reports that 2022 will be the first time the majority of U.S. employers will focus on reducing stigma in the workplace. In fact, companies are making employee mental health their No. 1 priority and are focused on expanding access to mental health services.
Still, even the best intentions – and the most robust health plans – cannot solve barriers to mental healthcare, including a critical provider shortage, long wait lists, high out-of-pocket costs and extremely narrow networks.
That’s where virtual care comes in. The patient experience is functionally the same as an in-person visit, but it eliminates the roadblocks of brick-and-mortal care. In fact, with 50% of therapy visits now being conducted digitally, telebehavioral health has already begun filling gaps nationwide and has become a preferred method of accessing care.
Comprehensive Telebehavioral Health Benefits
A complete telebehavioral health program will give employees access to the full gamut of mental healthcare, from talk therapy and medication management to services for struggling teenagers.
For employers, it means reduced spending on comorbid conditions, improved productivity and morale and a happier, healthier workforce.
- Telepsychiatry: A robust virtual psychiatry solution provides employees with urgently needed treatment of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and addiction, trauma, mood disorders and a host of other mental and emotional concerns. Providers use talk therapy, medications, psychosocial interventions and other treatments as needed to address acute and long-term mental health challenges and treat issues exacerbated by the pandemic.
- Teletherapy: Virtual talk therapy with a licensed provider gives workers the support they need to deal with mental and emotional struggles – like depression, anxiety, marriage and family problems, interpersonal issues, eating disorders, grief and other mental health problems. Providers develop treatment plans and measure the effectiveness of therapy over time to ensure positive outcomes.
- Teen Therapy: Even the best employees will struggle at work if there are struggles at home. This is especially true for workers whose kids are suffering from mental health challenges, which have skyrocketed amid the pandemic. Virtual teen therapy gives employees peace of mind by helping their kids connect with appropriate treatment. Therapists treat depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bullying, peer conflict, drug and alcohol use, self-harm behaviors and other common adolescent issues. Detailed treatment plans with specific benchmarks and frequent check-ins ensure teens’ progress and improvement.
It’s likely the mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for years to come. Employers can make a difference now and in the future by providing their staff the health benefits they need and want – and that includes telebehavioral health.