In recent weeks there has been a renewed focus on mental health issues, especially in light of a couple of high-profile celebrity suicides. Professional athletes like Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers and other luminaries have also been forthright in talking about their own issues with mental health.
These events have prompted conversations and articles, and an awareness that depression, anxiety and other challenges can strike anyone. It’s something that affects tens of millions of Americans. But there remains a stigma attached to mental health challenges that causes people to remain silent and not seek help. Or even when they do recognize they need assistance, they’re unsure of how to take the first steps.
I recently spoke with Judi Braswell, vice president of development at Behavioral Health Systems, Booth 3106 at the 2018 SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition, to learn more about how they are working to help improve access to mental health care.
Sharing More Than a List of Providers
Behavioral Health Systems partners with self-insured employers nationally to provide employee assistance programs and mental health and substance abuse benefits administration. The company works to communicate the value of seeking help sooner rather than later and to guide employees through the process of finding the assistance they need. Because BHS utilizes their own national network and pays the mental health and substance abuse claims, they have more opportunity to engage the members.
The company negotiates rates on a national basis to provide a cost savings to employers, allowing them to offer workers and their families a dedicated care coordinator who is a licensed mental health professional. This gives them a much greater degree of assistance in navigating what can be a very convoluted and difficult system.
“Employees know that instead of just providing a directory that has a list of names and saying ‘Good luck,’ their members are able to receive that expert guidance. Behavioral Health Systems is going to know their benefit plan, we're going to know the providers that are available within their area, and we're going to very closely walk with them through that journey,” says Braswell, who began her career on the care delivery side of mental health.
Encouraging People to Be Proactive
Employers can act to reduce mental health stigma just by sponsoring a benefit plan that has robust coverage for mental health issues, and by encouraging people to use it. When employees know their organization values that benefit, they are much more likely to reach out to access those services sooner. Knowing the help is there, and that they have a phone number they can call that is going to be answered by a live person who has expertise, also makes that employee more loyal to the employer.
Issues faced by modern workers can cross a wide spectrum. While substance abuse and stress/anxiety tend to be the most common issues, often those are just outward expressions of deeper challenges: marital strife, abuse, gambling, etc.
Braswell says that younger workers tend to be much more open and willing to talk about their mental health issues than are their older peers. So generational changes will go a long way toward reducing the stigma, as will employers that provide not just the resources but the explicit encouragement to reach out when someone is struggling.