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January 5, 2021

Behavioral Health Benefits Are Crucial For Employee Total Well-Being

Artemis Health

Employee well-being is on every benefits leader’s mind in 2020 and beyond. Artemis Health’s upcoming research study, conducted by Employee Benefit News/Arizent, showed that employers are worried about stress, depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges employees are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. One respondent wrote:

[We’re concerned with] mental health because of our change to virtual mode. We have programs in place to help people, but we need to identify exactly who needs help and how to make sure they get it.”

Experts estimate that in a normal year, over 16 million American adults suffer from a major depressive episode each year. That’s over 6% of the population. Women are more likely than men to suffer from depression (8%), and many factors can contribute, such as bereavement, postpartum, and drug or alcohol use. The pandemic has exacerbated behavioral health conditions, with one study in June 2020 showing that nearly 40% of Americans were dealing with depression, anxiety, stress, substance abuse, or suicidal thoughts. 

The most shocking fact of all from the National Institute of Mental Health is this: 37% of people who suffered a major depressive episode received no treatment at all. While undoubtedly some sufferers didn’t seek help, many others are limited in their care options. Some patients may not know where to start, how to find quality care, or how to navigate insurance networks or claims. 

This is where great employers step in. Those who provide robust, accessible and quality behavioral health benefits will reap the rewards in employee total well-being. Here’s how.

Depression/Anxiety and Employee Absenteeism Are Connected

According to the NIMH, depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. 64% of those who reported a major depressive episode said it caused severe impairment for them. That means missing work, being distracted, a downturn in productivity, and otherwise struggling with the functions of everyday life. It’s especially tough for sufferers in regards to their employment. They’re likely to quit or lose their jobs due to the lasting effects of their illness. 

A recent scientific study highlights this trend: 

“At the six-month follow-up, persons with depression had more new unemployment—14 percent for persons in the dysthymia group, 12 percent for persons in the major depression group, and 15 percent for persons in the group with both dysthymia and major depression, compared with 2 percent for persons in the control group and 3 percent for persons in the rheumatoid arthritis group. Among participants who were still employed, those with depression had significantly more job turnover, presenteeism, and absenteeism.”

These results were for participants who were diagnosed, insured and receiving treatment. Imagine how much higher turnover would be for those who aren’t able to access these resources. 

Artemis did a recent analysis with a client on the relationship between absence hours and employees diagnosed with depression or anxiety. The results were very clear - those diagnosed with these mental illnesses were absent 1.3 to 1.7 times more than a control group. Their disability days absent were 9.7x and 12.3x more than others, too.


Chart showing the effects of depression and anxiety on employee populations.
Artemis Health findings on depression/anxiety comorbidities.

Reducing absenteeism and disability is on the radar of just about every benefits team, and mental health programs are just one tool helping them support and retain these employees. 

Employee Assistance Programs Help 

What percentage of your employees would you estimate need EAP services at some time in their tenure? 10%? 15%? The COVID-19 pandemic has probably changed your estimate. If roughly 40% of the U.S. population is dealing with new mental health conditions, you might expect that at least half of those will seek out an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). 

Unfortunately, studies have shown EAP utilization hovers around 3%! These benefits have expanded, improved, and transformed to keep up with changes in the workforce, but many employees aren’t aware or engaging with them. Some think they’re only aimed at suicide prevention or only focused on substance abuse, but EAPs can help with connecting members to care, offering over-the-phone counseling, and ensuring continuation of care. 

Telemedicine is getting in on behavioral health care as well. Employees are utilizing telemedicine more than ever during the pandemic, so they might be more open to virtual therapy and mental health care than ever before. Employers can proactively promote these benefits and educate employees on their options. 

Most employees only hear about EAP benefits once a year. Even then, it might be on the second-to-last page of the open enrollment booklet. Employers need to step up efforts to publicize EAPs to employees and ensure they understand the value of these benefits. Move them to the front of your booklet, produce additional communications materials throughout the year, and work with vendors to educate employees. These efforts can make the difference between and employee quitting or coming back to work when they’re well. 

Stress and employee turnover are risks for your organization. 

Raise your hand if you’ve quit a job because of the stress level. Who hasn’t? 

54% of employees report high stress on the job, and that’s only counting work-related issues. Even in a low-stress role at work, many employees are facing stressors at home that impact their performance. This Forbes piece examines the major causes of absenteeism in the workplace, and they identify stress as a top cause right alongside illness, injury and job hunting. 

Employees in a yoga class
Well-being starts with fitness/exercise, but employee benefits leaders are looking beyond these traditional wellness solutions.

A strategic mental health benefits package sends employees a clear signal that their employer cares about their stress level. So do fitness and wellness programs. After all, exercise and physical fitness are widely shown to relieve stress and improve mental health. Innovative employers are offering both traditional mental health services and fitness/wellness programs as part of a total well-being strategy. 

Artemis Health recently worked alongside one of our clients to measure and address employee stress. Not only did it enable the employer to improve employee well-being, but it also revealed a benefits cost savings opportunity. Employees who reported high stress were also costing the plan $1,800 more per employee per year. Read the full case study here.

Are you measuring and improving employee behavioral health? Watch our 2-minute demo video to see how Artemis Health can help.

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