By JONATHAN ROMERO
Too often, friends, family and co-workers don’t see the emotional pain others are in until it’s too late for intervention. Even then, communities may well have been lacking sufficient resources to intervene anyway.
It is a concern in Florida where public resources are either not available or those who desperately need them are too stumped by the “system” to successfully gain access. There is a good case for employers in the state to intervene with solutions on their own as the crisis state of mental health intensifies – in both the U.S. and globally.
When it comes to spending on mental health programs, Florida ranks at the bottom of the list of States – a decades-long pattern of underfunding. It’s State Mental Health Agency (SMHA) has a per capita expenditure on mental health services of $37.28, according to most recent available data, actually declining 33 percent in the decade ended in 2012. The total spending for all U.S. SMHAs during that period, in contrast, grew 8 percent.
Meanwhile, Florida has an estimated 660,000 adults and 181,000 children living with severe mental illness like bipolar and severe depression. That doesn’t include all those – perhaps half the state’s population – who struggle with less severe emotional health issues.
Society pays the price. Employers are a huge part of the mix, coping with lagging productivity, worrisome absentee and presenteeism trends and higher turnover and healthcare costs. In all, one study found, the tally is nearly $5,000 per person annually in work days lost.
How Florida’s employers can respond
Employers that are smart will act swiftly to fill the gap in mental health services. A comprehensive benefits program that provides solutions demonstrates empathy and goes a long way toward cementing a psychologically safe culture. It’s also just the right thing to do.
The framework for such a program should be built around six best practices:
Build awareness to reduce stigma, expand utilization.
Considerable stigma surrounds mental health, especially in the workplace. The availability of solutions isn’t widely promoted, as a rule. Take Employee Assistance Programs: these are a common and helpful resource, but don’t typically get high utilization, to which 50 percent of employers blame on lack of awareness. In addition to promoting resources, messaging should emphasize that mental health maintenance is a core value. Further, managers need to be trained to recognize and respond to mental health trouble signs, and when company leaders champion the cause, stigmatization is vastly reduced.
Manage the work-related risks.
The work environment – from culture to the job itself – has a huge influence on the mental health of employees. Every organization needs to take a hard look at this factor to identify conditions that can lead to or intensify traumatic conditions. Involve employees in decision-making. Make sure work-life integration is a priority. Don’t just pay lip service to “flex” work. Make it real. And identify what other benefits can relieve the stress, like childcare and eldercare support and financial planning resources. There’s a lot at stake: 71 percent of employees who feel stressed out at work say they’ll look for a new job in the next year.
Measure – or you won’t be managing.
Any program geared to relieve the mental health pressures the workforce is facing must also be accompanied by a series of metrics to show that time, effort and resources are having a meaningful impact. No emotional wellness strategy should be launched, for example, without capturing baseline insights into the overall health of the organization. What should be measured? Workplace outcomes like absenteeism, productivity, motivation and retention. Measuring outcomes achieved by intervention solutions will help the organization fine-tune its mental wellness offering. In contrast, only 31 percent of employers measure the benefits’ value – even though 94 percent of their leaders say mental health is a key pillar of their wellness strategy.
Not just any mental health wellness benefits will do.
Access must be provided to evidence-based, high-quality mental healthcare – meaning it is safe, effective, patient-centered, timely, efficient, equitable and scientifically-based. Access should be through health plans, EAPs and other partnerships with mental health care providers, eased through reduced co-pays and other actions. It is also key to ensure programs span mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services. The more strategies employed to raise awareness and reduce stigma, the better. Over 80 percent of employees thought an awareness campaign would counter the stigma of seeking help, but only 23 percent of employers had put one in place
Integrated mental health into broader corporate wellness program.
Employers are spending more on their wellness programs, partially because so many – 92 percent – are expanding their support for mental health and well-being under that umbrella. That’s the smart way to go, given the tight link between mental health and physical health. Programs should recognize the eight dimensions of wellness linked to emotional well-being and use them as the basis of their efforts. They include emotional wellness (think lifestyle coaching), intellectual wellness (career development and coaching), and financial wellness (guidance on budgeting and financial goal setting).
Mental health partnerships matter.
Everyone benefits when employers partner with community groups that have a stake in the public’s emotional health. These ties make more convenient and cost-effective resources available. They also encourage greater volunteerism by employees – which has been shown to improve mental health and well-being outcomes. Further, by sharing their experiences and successes with these partners, the broader learning ecosystem for mental health organizations is enriched.
Jonathan Romero is a commercial advisor with global insurance brokerage Hub International in Florida. He specializes in medical and white-collar professional risks, advising on professional, malpractice and management liability exposures and coverages. He also provides comprehensive property, casualty and benefits consulting to these clients, both for smaller, private clientele and for the large, public groups. Jonathan works with the State of Florida’s medical association and the local medical society in Leon County and the surrounding areas.