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May 16, 2019
David Burda
Economics Outcomes System Dynamics

What Businesses Say They’re Doing About Their Employees’ Mental Health

The National Institute of Mental Health says 46.6 million adults suffered from some form of mental illness in 2017. Of those, 57.4 percent didn’t receive any mental health treatment for their condition. You can bet that some of that 57.4 percent work across the aisle, on your floor or in your building.

That’s why the nation’s employers are in a great position to do something about the behavioral health crisis in the U.S. (Behavioral health includes both mental health and substance abuse problems.)

And, according to some recent reports and surveys, employers say they are doing something about it.

  • U.S. companies are expected to spend an average of $3.6 million each this year on employee well-being programs. That’s according to a survey of 164 large companies conducted by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health. Some 92 percent of the companies said they include emotional and mental health benefits and services in their overall well-being programs.
  • Ninety-nine percent of 113 U.S. employers surveyed by the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that the mental health of their employees is directly related to the overall performance of their organization. (Makes you wonder about the 1 percent.) Seventy-eight percent said mental health was an important part of their employee health management strategy.
  • Fifty-seven percent of 554 U.S. employers surveyed by Willis Towers Watson said they intend to prioritize mental or behavioral health in their health plan decisions and strategies over the next three years. Twenty-four percent said they have a companywide behavioral health strategy or action plan in place today. Another 61 percent said they will within three years.
  • Non-elderly adults suffering from moderate or severe psychological distress have less trouble finding a provider, being accepted as a new patient and having their health insurance accepted by a provider if they have employer-sponsored health insurance than if they were covered by Medicaid or an ACA plan, according to a study in Health Affairs.

Why all the attention? Time and money, and time is money, so it’s money and money.

  • A recent report from the Integrated Benefits Institute estimated that lost employee productivity due to illness costs U.S. employers $530 billion per year. That figure includes sick days, short-term disability, long-term disability, medical leave and impaired performance.
  • A separate report from the Integrated Benefits Institute said 9 percent of long-term disability claims and 7 percent of short-term disability claims filed from 2011 through 2017 by employees were for mental or behavioral health conditions, the most common of which were diagnosed depression or other mood disorders. The average length of time that an employee was out on short-term disability leave for depression or another mood disorder was 81 days.

In short, behavioral health issues are costing employers more money, so employers are vowing to spend more money to minimize the problem and the hit to their businesses.

Exacerbating both sides of the above equation is the fact that six of the top 10 medical conditions having an adverse effect on the health of millennials are behavioral health conditions, according to an analysis  by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.  We commented on that analysis in a recent blog post, “Why Millennials May Be Pushing Us Off a Healthcare Cliff” on 4sighthealth.com.

With all the talk over Medicare for All proposals and the future of employer-sponsored health insurance, behavioral health is one area where companies can lead and demonstrate how they can use their health plans to improve the mental health of the nation’s workforce. Let’s hope they all follow through on their survey responses.


David Burda is a columnist for 4sight Health and news editor of 4sight Friday, our weekly newsletter. Follow Burda on Twitter @DavidRBurda and on LinkedIn. Read his bio here.

About the Author

David Burda

David Burda began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes this monthly column “Burda on Healthcare,” contributes weekly blog posts, manages our weekly newsletter 4sight Friday, and hosts our weekly Roundup podcast. Dave believes that healthcare is a business like any other business, and customers — patients — are king. If you do what’s right for patients, good business results will follow.

Dave’s personnel experiences with the healthcare system both as a patient and family caregiver have shaped his point of view. It’s also been shaped by covering the industry for 40 years as a reporter and editor. He worked at Modern Healthcare for 25 years, the last 11 as editor.

Prior to Modern Healthcare, he did stints at the American Medical Record Association (now AHIMA) and the American Hospital Association. After Modern Healthcare, he wrote a monthly column for Twin Cities Business explaining healthcare trends to a business audience, and he developed and executed content marketing plans for leading healthcare corporations as the editorial director for healthcare strategies at MSP Communications.

When he’s not reading and writing about healthcare, Dave spends his time riding the trails of DuPage County, IL, on his bike, tending his vegetable garden and daydreaming about being a lobster fisherman in Maine. He lives in Wheaton, IL, with his lovely wife of 40 years and his three children, none of whom want to be journalists or lobster fishermen.

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