When Antea Group realized employees often could not access mental health services from their EAP or medical plan on a timely basis, they added Learn to Live, an online cognitive behavioral program available 24/7 to their benefits program.
Antea Group is an international environmental consulting firm with about 450 employees in its Shoreview, Minnesota headquarters and 31 other U.S. offices. Cognitive behavioral therapy, developed in the 1960s by American psychiatrist and psychotherapist Aaron T. Beck, is short-term therapy that helps people to change negative thought processes and behaviors to relieve the symptoms of mental health problems.
“We were getting feedback from our employees that the EAP program provides a list of resources but it often takes two or three months to get an appointment,” says the company’s VP of employee services and systems Rosanna Ouellette-Pesicka. “At the same time, aggregate data from our medical plan clearly showed that we had a high level of stress within our organization.”
As a result the company started researching other available options. “Our broker brought Learn to Live to our attention, and we totally fell in love with it because it was 24/7 which is really appealing to our employees who are always on the go,” she says.
Learn to Live provides online CBT to address psychological problems such as social anxiety, depression, stress and worry. Employees complete an online questionnaire and based on the results, they are directed to one of three eight-module programs. The goal is that by the end of the program, participants have the tools and resources to deal with the specific challenge they are facing.
“Of course if the assessment reveals the employee is in crisis or having suicidal thoughts the program will direct them to call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room,” says Ouellette-Pesicka.
Clare Miller, the director of the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, says there is a compelling business case for investing in quality workplace mental health care programs. “Mental illness is common – one in four or five people – and most people don’t reach out for help as early as they could or should. Employers are already paying for it through their healthcare costs or lost productivity when people do not get effective treatment,” she says.
Miller believes that online therapy holds great promise, particularly for millennials who are increasingly doing everything on their phones and view technology as offering a more attractive path than face-to-face therapy. “We’re all strapped for time and the advantage is that employees can use this form of intervention at the time of their choosing, whether it is in the middle of the night or early in the morning,” she says.
Nevertheless, opinion is divided in a pair of recent studies on the efficacy of computerized CBT. Researchers at the University of Amsterdam carried out nine controlled trials of online CBT for a variety of mental health disorders among a total of 840 participants. They concluded that treatment adherence was 82% and mental health improvement for patients studied was maintained for long periods.
However, a 2015 U.K. study conducted by the University of York called into question the benefits of computer-assisted CBT for tackling depression due to low patient adherence and engagement with the treatment. In the U.K. study, neither a commercially available nor free-to-use computerized CBT intervention was found to be superior to the usual care from a general practitioner.
Quote“Mental illness is common – one in four or five people – and most people don’t reach out for help as early as they could or should.”
But Ouellette-Pesicka thinks that by offering incentives for employees to participate in the program either as a preventative or remedial tool, the company will be able to encourage more employees to log in and complete both the preliminary assessment and the full eight-unit program.
A research brief from the Rand Corporation reveals that incentives are associated with higher participation in wellness programs by about 20% and using large incentives has some an effect, albeit a limited one. Employers offering rewards of more than $100 – a common threshold – report participation rates of 51%, compared with 36% for those with smaller rewards.
When the Live to Learn program was introduced, Antea was already a client of The Vitality Group, which offers incentive-based health and wellness programs to employers as part of their benefit programs.
The Vitality program awards points to employees participating in a variety of healthy programs that can be redeemed for Amazon gift cards or other items. “The main goal is to help individuals understand their health risks and drive them to more healthy behaviors,” says Vitality’s director of health research, Jonathan Dugas. Completion of a Learn to Live program has been added to the menu of activities that can generate rewards for Antea’s U.S. workforce.
In addition, Antea Group also kicked off online CBT with a robust communications program. The traditional wellness gift that goes to employees every December included a postcard with a picture of an employee on a beach that said “Are you in your happy place? If not, here is something that can help.” Postcards were also mailed to every employee’s home. In addition, emails went to every employee describing the new program and the CEO discussed it in his quarterly update call.
“We have a full year communications strategy including a mental health challenge in May, which is mental health awareness month,” says Ouellette-Pesicka, “Furthermore, had a two-hour online Webex with all of our HR people so they can speak intelligently about the program when they are asked.”
The online CBT program was just rolled out in January so it is still early days, but she says already 16 people have completed the program. “We also opted to continue our EAP program because Live to Learn is strictly a mental health program, but they offer resources for a number of other areas including financial and legal counseling,” she says.
At a cost of about $150 per employee, Ouellette-Pesicka thinks Live to Learn is a great investment. “If we avoid one major medical claim, it will pretty well pay for the program,” she says.
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