While more companies today are focusing on wellness programs as a way to cut health care costs, Ed Jones, president of commercial division at ValueOptions, told attendees at the Institute for Health and Productivity Management conference that adding behavioral health clinicians to the mix can yield even greater returns on overall employer investments in health care and wellness.

An estimated 9 million U.S. adults have serious thoughts of suicide each year, and 1 million make a suicide attempt, Jones said, adding that there is a strong link between depression and anxiety and chronic conditions. There is at least a 50% increase in prevelance in chronic conditions like diabetes when paired with a mental illness, he said, which means “they’re not taking care of their physical health. People who are dealing with comorbid conditions are far more costly, and the reason for that is that they’re not getting effective care, it’s fragmented.”

“There are a lot of good efforts within corporate world to get people’s extrinsic motivators going, like  giving incentives,” Jones noted. “That’s fine and that may get people started, but the goal is ultimately that you need to be tapping people’s intrinsic motivation. The goal of health care isn’t to reduce symptoms, but to have sense of wellbeing.”

He said this is where a behavioral health clinician comes in, who can help workers reverse negative behaviors that can stunt effective management of chronic conditions. With 20% of health care costs coming from behavioral health, according to the National Institute on Mental Health, Jones made the case that although companies might see behavioral health as only a small part of expenditures, there is in fact a behavioral health crisis.

“We have continued to fail to get people the help they need,” he said. He cited anecdotal evidence that showed that for behavioral health EAPs, 10% utilization is considered doing well, but with the number of people with mental illness in the country, it’s not enough.

“The technology will take us as far and as fast as we want to go, but the thing that holds us back — that is a brake economically and socially — is the performance of human capital,” IHPM President Sean Sullivan said. “We cannot afford illness anymore. For all of those that have preached health and wellness forever, their time has come.”

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