Mental health is a top priority for employers. What are their strategies?

Almost two-thirds of employers, or 67%, are looking to make mental health and emotional wellbeing programs a top health priority in the next three years, a new survey found.

The Willis Towers Watson (WTW) report surveyed 455 U.S. employers in August. The respondents have a total of 8.2 million employees, of which 19% have fully insured medical plans and 81% have self-insured medical plans.

The survey found that 88% of employers have already acted on mental health in the last year, with 38% taking “extensive actions” and 58% taking “some actions.” The top strategies to support mental health issues were offering coverage for telebehavioral health services (83%), providing onsite or virtual employee assistance programs (69%) and providing access to digital behavioral health support (68%). The latter includes offering mental health apps to their employees.

“Employers are highly focused on supporting the mental health of their employees, especially as they look to retain and engage talent,” said Erin Terkoski Young, senior director for WTW’s health, equity and wellbeing practice, in a news release. “Those that prioritize employee mental health and increase access to virtual and digital solutions will be uniquely positioned to improve their ability to deliver much-needed care.”

Many employers are providing training to managers so they can identify those struggling with mental health and know how to intervene. About 44% are currently doing this, and another 30% are planning or considering doing so by 2024.

Addressing culture when it comes to mental health is also becoming an important strategy for employers. About 38% are partnering with employee resource groups for population-specific mental health problems, while another 27% are planning or considering doing this. Additionally, 17% of employers are examining cultural competencies in their behavioral health provider networks, and another 27% are planning or considering doing so in the future.

Additionally, more employers are looking to provide mental health days to their employees. About 9% already offer mental health days, while 21% are planning or are considering doing so by 2024. 

The heavy emphasis on mental health support for employees is largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Young said. Employers looking to retain workers need to make mental health services available, Young added.

“Covid-19 took a terrible toll on employees’ lives, including substantially worsening mental health,” Young said. “Although the pandemic may have started to wane, mental health challenges persist. Taking mental health programs to the next level won’t be easy, but employers that succeed will see improvement in productivity, retention and engagement.” 

Photo: SIphotography, Getty Images

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