When I was growing up, mental illness wasn’t something that was openly discussed or acknowledged, and sadly often went untreated. Fortunately, today there is more awareness, due in part to the exploding millennial population, its unique struggles and its willingness to talk more openly about mental health.
And it's something that employers must also address when it comes to their benefits offerings.
Because millennials have grown up with technology and social media, their lives are often an open book. They may compare themselves to others and feel they often don’t measure up. Couple this with the fact that they are trying to move up the corporate ladder at an accelerated pace and dealing with financial stress caused by student loan debt, they may feel anxious and even depressed. According to a recent study by the Center for Generational Kinetics, a generational research firm, 20% of millennial workers report being depressed, in contrast to 16% of baby boomers and 16% of Gen Xers.
But strides are being made. For example, Prince Harry brought awareness to the subject by revealing his own struggle with depression over the past 20 years in the aftermath of the death of his mother, Princess Diana. And Ben Congleton, CEO of tech firm Otark, recently applauded one of his employees when she emailed the team saying she needed two days off to deal with mental health.
As Ismael Rivera Ramos, director of human resources and equal employment opportunity officer at the American Psychological Association, explains, HR and benefits professionals have a responsibility to destigmatize mental health issues so that employees will feel empowered to seek and take full advantage of the mental health benefits offered to them. Here are three ways they can recognize mental health issues and support employees.
Start with an employee assistance program
The often-overlooked employee assistance program may be an obvious place to start. Think about it: During your annual benefit open enrollment, how much explanation do you provide on the EAP? Do employees even know they have access to this typically company-paid benefit? Generally, EAPs include telephonic and/or in-person counseling, referrals and many other valuable resources. Employees should be encouraged to familiarize themselves with the program elements. Don’t limit communication to your annual open enrollment meeting. Instead, market the program throughout the plan year, highlighting various resources.
EAP programs that provide online resources and interactive assessments can be particularly appealing to millennials, who have a higher comfort level for digital content than most other generations. But to hook your audience, the content also needs to be aesthetically appealing and relevant. For example, topics like personal finance and stress management may attract this younger audience. Also consider having your EAP vendor participate in health or employee benefit fairs. Seek creative ways to draw employees in.
Highlight mental health coverage in your medical plans
Don’t make it taboo to talk about mental health coverage. Discuss coverage levels as you would for any other key benefit. When appropriate, direct employees to your broker’s advocacy service or carrier portals to find a provider. One legitimate challenge is that many of these providers are not in-network. Remind employees to leverage health savings account or flexible spending account funds to offset the out-of-pocket expense.
While the prevalence of telemedicine — the practice of receiving care virtually via videoconferencing or telephonically — is becoming more mainstream for minor health issues, treatment options for mental health are now included in some services. The concept of expanding telehealth was introduced in 2015 when Medicare expanded telemedicine coverage for seven mental health services. This facet of telemedicine, referred to as telepsychiatry, can include psychiatric evaluations, therapy (individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy), patient education and medication management.
Telepsychiatry treatment is appealing for those who are concerned about the stigma of mental illness or are just reticent about seeking care. It also works well for people in rural areas who may have limited access to a shrinking pool of mental health professionals. When it comes to tech savvy millennials, telepsychiatry maybe a channel of treatment choice.
Employee health and wellness should be a top concern. There are real-life ties to productivity and a decrease in absenteeism when employees are feeling their best. Ensuring they are tending to their mental health, and aware of the resources available, can help to further remove the stigma around seeking treatment.
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