How to offer better mental health benefits

Exacerbated by the pandemic, demand for mental health treatment has ballooned significantly, with a large increase in treatment of anxiety and depression compared to 2020, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association.

These numbers align with recent data we’ve seen from Justworks’ customers. As a human resource software company, Justworks helps small business owners get access to leading benefits, allowing their employees to manage their health and wellness, take time off, gain access to mental health offerings, and more. Here’s what we found:

  • In a survey to Justworks health insurance participants, 23% of respondents cited using their health insurance for mental health care (ie, therapy, rehab, anxiety and stress counseling) in the past year. In the same survey, 60% of respondents reported that they expect their employer to invest in mental health support.
  • Mental health needs were reported as the reason half of our users, whose primary care provider is One Medicalvisited the doctor.
  • Three-quarters of interactions on our employee assistance program, which helps employees navigate personal issues that might be impacting their work performance, involved behavioral health support.
  • Half of the Justworks users of patient advocacy and assistance company, Health Advocatecited mental health in their top three needs.

Mental health is mental wealth
Not only is supporting employees’ mental health the right thing to do, it’s good for the bottom line. A healthy workforce has been shown to be a productive oneand studies have shown that mental health and physical health are inextricably linked. Good benefit offerings are often a key consideration of potential employees.

Given employee demands and the surge of anxiety and depression, if your company doesn’t offer support for mental healthcare, now is the time to start. First, the basics: There’s no Federal law that requires plans to provide mental health benefits, but the vast majority of large group plans do, according to the APA.

In 2008, the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act passed, requiring companies with 50 or more employees to provide coverage for mental health, behavioral health, and substance-use disorders that is equal to physical care coverage. The Affordable Care Act expanded this requirement in 2010 to individual health insurance coverage as well. The major caveat here is that many insurers still do not adequately cover mental health care.

Not enough providers for those who need it
The other side of this problem is with mental health providers themselves: there are only 30 psychologists and about 15 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in the US, compared to about 156 primary care providers per 100,000 people. Making this situation more difficult is that many mental health practitioners don’t take insurance. About a third of people with private insurance had difficulty finding a therapist who would accept their coverage, according to data cited by The Wall Street Journal. That’s more than three times as many people who had difficulties finding an in-network primary care provider.

Almost six times the number of mental health office visits in 2017 (the most recent data available) were out of network compared with primary care visits. In 2021, people struggled to find a mental health provider, with therapists telling potential patients they aren’t taking on new cases, or not calling back at all.

How small businesses can help their employees
The shortage of mental health care in this country is largely outside of businesses’ control — of course, including access to mental health care in benefit packages is a good start. But while small businesses shouldn’t have to bear the responsibility of coverage and provider shortages, what they can do is foster cultures of wellness and care that prioritizes each individual’s physical and emotional well-being.

Readmore: Mental health coaching: Where human and digital meet to maximize support

At Justworks, we witness how our customers are actively working to find more ways to offer their employees a variety of options, understanding that mental health is different for everyone and recognizing that it affects employees both in and out of the workplace. Digital media company Axios, a Justworks customer, acknowledges that mental health is intertwined with work-life balance, according to Dominique Taylor, its chief people officer.

“Axios designed holistic benefits that support employees in all aspects of their lives,” Taylor shared. Its team utilizes the suite of mental health products and online counseling platforms provided by Justworks and supplement these with additional creative benefits for personal wellbeing outside of the “office,” including quarterly mental health days, work-from-home stipends, virtual employee mental health events, and a family fund for unexpected financial emergencies.

To help employees on their mental health journey, many companies now offer subscriptions to mental wellness apps such as Talkspace, Headspace and Calm. These online apps make accessing mental health programming easier and some, like Talkspace, even offer direct access to online counseling and therapy services.

The mental health crisis, unfortunately, will not wane any time soon. But addressing the issue of mental health and implementing programming in the workplaces shows employees they are supported at all stages of their mental health journey.


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