Workplace depression is an increasing concern for employers. In fact, a recent Mental Health America survey found that untreated depression in the U.S. costs more than $51 billion in absenteeism from work and lost productivity. It’s not just about costs for employers, though; they’re also concerned with increasing employee well-being and health through benefit programming.

One way employers are tackling this problem is by analyzing benefits data. A leading software provider with more than 10,000 employees, for example, looked into implementing a new wellness program to help their employees suffering from depression or anxiety. To validate this new program and ensure their employees received the best behavioral healthcare, they dug into absence hours, per member per year spending on medical and Rx costs, disability work days absent, ER visits and musculoskeletal diagnoses. They tracked de-identified employees diagnosed with depression and anxiety in cohorts, and compared their utilization against the rest of the employee population. Their findings validated their concerns: Employees with depression and anxiety diagnoses missed more work than those without these medical conditions.

Other employees can follow suit. To arm your benefits team with the ammo they need to be able to make the case for a behavioral wellness program and help employees with depression and anxiety, consider these four factors.

Don’t follow hunches — validate with data. Employers should find out the impact behavioral health diagnoses is truly having on their population through thoughtful data analysis. For example, one Artemis Health customer looked closely at opioid use in their population expecting to find evidence of an opioid epidemic. This is a fair assumption based on a recent survey by the National Security Council, which reported 71% of U.S. employers have been affected by employee misuse of legally prescribed medications. Surprisingly, they found that nearly all their members taking opioids were doing so responsibly and for appropriate diagnoses. With a quick review of current employee benefit usage data, more accurate assumptions can be qualified and meaningful actions can be implemented to enrich employee wellness and prevent wasteful benefit spending.

“Cross-walk” your data. It’s important for any employer to compare their data across multiple data sets to confirm that their benefits strategy will work for their population. For example, if the employer in the above example had only examined traditional data sources like medical and Rx claims, they would have missed the show-stopping disparity in missed work days. By cross-walking, employers can avoid costly benefits spending missteps and find meaningful, actionable information. When you add data sets beyond medical and Rx claims, such as wellness data, biometrics data, and more, you can confirm if a pattern holds and implement benefits changes accordingly.

Develop a communication strategy. Effective communication should never be an afterthought, especially for a sensitive topic like behavioral health. According to a recent Health Advocate survey, 41% of employees report that their top benefits complaint is infrequent communications about their employer’s programs. Whenever you’re rolling out a new program or benefit, make sure employees are informed and able to make use of it. It’s time to think beyond open enrollment and onboarding to get employees engaged with their health benefits throughout the year.

Empower employees to participate in their benefits management. Help employees become educated participants in their health. Move past the printed benefits booklet and use digital channels to reach all workers, including remote employees. Think lunch and learns, webinars, online tools, social media and email blasts. Don’t be shy about multiple channels and repeated messaging to drive engagement. The Health Advocate survey also uncovered that employees’ communications preferences vary based on age, gender and type of program — some prefer in-person discussions while others would choose technology.

Behavioral health programs — when done well — can be game-changing for both employees and companies. The right strategy, supported by data, will help employees get the resources they need while helping employers make gains in productivity and engagement. As mental health issues continue to take center stage in public discourse, effective benefits data analysis will help employers justify and create a stand-out behavioral health program that will arm current employees and help attract future talent.

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