It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic magnified and exacerbated the mental health crisis in our country—in the first year of the pandemic, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a whopping 25% (World Health Organization). As we emerge from the pandemic, mental healthcare and wellness have come to the forefront of discussions in the workplace. This renewed focus has not changed the fact that employers are facing an array of competing priorities, and in many cases, a lack of experience in developing an effective mental health strategy.
As physicians who have delivered mental health services for decades and have partnered with employers nationally, we have a unique view of both the needs of employees and the litany of priorities, options and competing advice around improving mental health in the workplace. Here are our top recommendations on addressing the mental health of your workforce:
Integrate mental health into the workplace and the healthcare experience
It is tempting to treat mental health with a narrow fix – for example, providing access to an expanded mental health network or virtual therapy. However, employees most likely to access these services are those self-aware of their challenges, and this does not take into account that stigma and lack of awareness are major problems. After all, 54% of individuals who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). These fixes are also fundamentally not scalable. We can’t solve our nation’s mental health challenges with treatment alone—care should include both preventative and clinical options to provide a range of solutions to meet individual employee needs.
Prioritize pre-clinical support
Preventative options can be supported by resources like Thrive Global, a leading behavior change technology company with the mission to end the stress and burnout epidemic. The company’s science-backed approach is based on the belief that well-being must be embedded in the daily workflow. Thrive’s behavior change platform meets employees where they are, creating moments throughout the day to recharge, reduce stress, connect with others and more. For example, users can reduce stress in just 60 seconds with the popular Reset feature – and even create and share their own personal Resets with images that bring them calm and joy. And through Thrive Pulse, employees receive a simple daily question about their well-being and then receive a relevant piece of content – such as a breathing exercise, article or podcast – tailored to their response.
Thrive has also organized a pledge asking companies to continue prioritizing their employees’ well-being and mental health and maintaining investments and commitments in this critical area– a pledge that Accolade proudly signed.
Adopt a collaborative care intervention model
At Accolade, our clinical approach to employee mental health is built on the Collaborative Care model, an evidence-based intervention first developed at the University of Washington and now proven in over 80 randomized controlled studies to improve mental health outcomes and deliver a 6:1 return on investment. Our solutions don’t separate mental health from physical health—the two are integrated for a comprehensive wellness experience. With the integration of PlushCare, an online medical care provider for primary, urgent care, mental health and therapy, we can seamlessly reach consumers via a virtual setting, offering direct mental health consultations to our expanded network of mental health experts.
Measure outcomes and adapt as needed
Employers must be intentional in measuring success, and willing to go back to the drawing board as necessary. As the saying goes, ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’ - while indicators like access to care are important, it must be balanced with analysis that those with access achieve the intended outcomes. Too often, mental health solutions tout timeliness of access as their primary metric. But ultimately our goal isn’t just to increase utilization of mental health care; it’s to improve depression or anxiety.
At Accolade, we utilize a PHQ-9 assessment to screen for depression when individuals begin therapy and we regularly re-measure it throughout their treatment course. Through this, we have found that we are able to catch depression early on and are better able to ensure an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan, while ultimately having a positive impact on individuals’ mental health.
While these tips will help build the foundation of a stronger strategy – your commitment to mental health must also span beyond your wellness programming. The most successful companies we partner with also focus on building a sympathetic and conscious culture among employees and leadership.