The dollars and sense of mental health treatment


With roughly 20% of the population suffering from a mental illness, its presence in the workplace (and in our personal lives)  is assured.  Mental illnesses and substance use disorders can have a lasting effect on workers, the workplace, and on your company’s bottom line. Address them and you can improve the retention and mental wellness of your workforce, and bottom line for your company.

Untreated, mental illness and substance use disorders reduce productivity.  The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that depression results in 27.2 lost worked days; bi-polar disorder, 65.5 days.  Both disorders result in presenteeism (low productivity when the person does return to work) , lasting 100-160 days.  Combined, the national cost of these two disorders alone is estimated to be $50.7 billion per year in lost salary equivalent productivity.  Substance use disorders affect 10.8 million fulltime and 3.3 million part-time workers with an associated cost of $276 billion.  Only 40% of those affected currently access treatment because the diseases are often initially invisible or through lack of treatment options.  Privacy protections prohibit asking or using any information in hiring and management practices. For most business this represents a hidden cost.

There’s more. If a family member is affected, so is your employee.  Mental illnesses and substance use disorders also carry a very high disease burden.  The family member may need to take time off to provide care, or is present but distracted and not completely productive.  Mental illness is the most frequent reason for disability claims, and is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act.  Employee accommodations are required under law, employers are liable for accidents and injury to staff and others; the risk for which can be increased by these conditions.

Mental illness and substance use disorders also raise overall medical costs. A mental illness accompanying a general medical condition increases the cost of treating the general condition 2-3 times.  Nationally, the “added” cost is estimated at $293 billion.  Since cost drives premiums, this is a significant driver of rising health insurance cost, and, in turn, business costs.  Employer-based insurance now covers mental illnesses and substance use disorders at “parity” with general medical disorders.  Estimates are that this coverage has not significantly increased the cost of insurance, but effective treatment of these illnesses has been shown to significantly reduce costs

By now it should be clear that whether you are addressing it or not, you and your business are impacted.  There are things you can do that benefit you, your staff, and your bottom line:

Get educated – a Mental Health First Aid course, much like Red Cross First Aid, helps non-professionals recognize these illnesses and provide assistance. Making this course broadly available to your staff helps promote openness, fight myths that are all too prevalent, and encourage people to get treatment early without fear of retaliation or stigma.

Build mental health and wellness into your employee wellness program: Encourage healthy work-life balance, provide education about managing mental wellness along with sleep, diet, exercise, and finances – the head and body do work together!

Review your insurance coverage and choose a plan that facilitates access, supports treatment and makes make getting help as easy as possible.  It won’t significantly raise your costs, and could in fact lower your overall medical utilization.

These actions not only make business sense, but will create a healthier workforce that is engaged and ready to fulfill your company’s mission.

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