Improving Employee Access to Mental Health and Substance Use Care

As businesses understand the profound importance of effectively tending to employee mental health and substance use, they are beginning to recognize how it can positively impact their bottom line, from enhancing performance and productivity to improving engagement, boosting retention rates, and beyond. Supporting overall well-being is not only beneficial for employers’ profits, but more importantly, it’s the right thing to do.

Mental health issues affect an enormous portion of the population, particularly those in their prime working years. However, despite this fact, only half of people with mental health conditions receive proper treatment to help them excel at work and manage daily life. We can do better to support these individuals, and employers are responsible for making a difference here.


Creating a Mentally Healthy Culture

By raising awareness and openly discussing mental health, companies can create a safe environment that encourages employees to seek help when it’s necessary. Breaking the silence about this crucial topic is an important step in empowering people with knowledge of their own well-being and creating an atmosphere where they feel comfortable asking for support.

Nowadays, employers recognize the need to consider their employees’ physical and mental health as an integral part. Research has demonstrated that there is a strong relationship between emotional well-being and overall health; thus, organizations should invest in creating healthy work environments for all individuals within the organization.

Stress is an element that exists in almost all work environments and can affect one’s overall well-being. It is a motivational factor but also takes away from productivity levels if not monitored effectively. Companies should strive to create balanced workloads so that employees have some control over how they complete their tasks, as well as provide opportunities for rewards and recognition, fairness of chances within the workplace, along with meaningful purpose and values within the role. This will help reduce any excessive stress or potential burnout.

To create a thriving workplace, we must provide resources to help build resilience and foster well-being during stressful times. Such support may include engaging in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), making accommodations, practicing mindfulness techniques, participating in team activities, and receiving leadership training.


Ensure That Leadership’s Commitment to Employee Health is Visible

Leaders should use their speeches, presentations, and any other communication channels to talk with employees about mental health by sharing a personal connection that resonates with the idea that “everyone knows someone” who is struggling. Let’s break down the stigma surrounding mental illness, for there is nothing to be ashamed of. Leaders must model healthy behaviors like setting reasonable work hours, getting enough rest between work days, taking necessary breaks throughout day-to-day tasks, and providing tools for employees to maintain physical as well as emotional wellness.


Use All Communication Vehicles to Reinforce the Importance of Workplace Mental Health

Keep reminding people that the mental well-being of your organization’s members is a priority. The more openly and frequently you communicate about this topic, the more comfortable employees become in seeking help for any mental health issues they may be experiencing. By normalizing these discussions, we can create an environment where individuals are not afraid to seek assistance whenever necessary.


Offer Managers Training and Mental Health Resources

To provide proper care and assistance for those who have mental health issues, managers must be trained to recognize the signs of anxiety, depression, PTSD, high stress levels, isolation, and related problems. Knowing how one’s emotional state influences their performance is essential for leading a successful team; it allows supervisors to support employees in need with precision and compassion.


Examine Your Organization’s Policies and Practices

To make sure your employees benefit from the best mental health support, why not think about implementing some of these practices:

  • Allowing for sick leave that includes mental health days.
  • Ensuring flexible work hours and alternative schedules to cater to those who may need special attention due to medications or certain conditions at particular times.
  • Establishing a smooth return to work program for staff members coming back from extended medical or psychological absences.


Offer Resiliency Training

With its cutthroat competition and breakneck speed, the modern workplace has created an alarming level of stress-related health issues on a global scale. Resilience is something that can be learned through training and repetition. This type of training can include equipping employees to cope with interpersonal conflict, pressure, time constraints, loss of sleep from fatigue, and extended working hours. Everyone can better navigate these intense environments with the proper techniques mastered in advance.


Offer Information and Resources on Stress Reduction and Management

When looking to manage stress, here are some important considerations:

  • Make sure that workloads and deadlines are reasonable and align with an employee’s capability for the job.
  • Allow employees a degree of discretion over their work activities so that they have control over how it’s completed.
  • Introduce reliable meditation options or apps that can help alleviate workplace anxieties related to mental well-being.
  • Offer mindfulness training virtually or face-to-face, as well as share information on its value when reducing tensions in stressful situations at work.
  • Provide sleep apps that may aid those struggling with sleeping patterns during times of high pressure and ensure they wake up feeling refreshed daily.


Address Burnout and Other Mental Health Challenges

Burnout is a result of long-term workplace stress that has gone unmanaged. Exhaustion, negative thoughts and feelings, and an inability to perform efficiently are common burnout symptoms. Surveys show 88% of workers battle some form of burnout, with 60% experiencing high levels. To reduce and prevent the effects of burnout, small steps in addressing six key workplace factors can have significant results.

  • Workload: Providing people with ample time and the required resources to complete their tasks efficiently.
  • Autonomy and Control: Give employees the opportunity to take charge of their work and how it is done for maximum effectiveness.
  • Reward and Recognition: Rewarding people for their hard work and accomplishments is essential to recognizing their contributions.
  • Community and Sense of Belonging: Transforming the environment to foster a sense of trust and camaraderie between colleagues is paramount for creating successful collaborations.
  • Fairness: Providing employees the chance to be promoted and feel respected in their workplace is essential for morale. Doing so will ensure a positive working environment where everyone feels valued.
  • Values and Purpose in Work: Improve job satisfaction by encouraging people to take pride in their work and feel good about the results of their efforts.


Promote Work-Life Integration and Balance

Forward-thinking companies understand the need for reasonable working hours, accommodating schedules to deal with life’s responsibilities, providing a break from constant emails and texts, and offering ample benefits that meet a range of diverse family needs.


Demonstrate Fairness, Appreciation, and Respect

To be a successful organization, it is essential to embody integrity, courage, and social consciousness. What better place to start this journey than within your own company?


Form and Strengthen Employee Resource Groups

Employees can be an invaluable source of support and camaraderie for each other. Employee resource groups not only encourage the formation of communities but also showcase an organization’s dedication to its employees’ mental well-being.


Ensuring Healthcare Network Adequacy

To ensure the overall well-being of your employees and have a reliable mental health plan and reputable healthcare providers in place, here are some ideas for employers and organizations. This data can provide employers with an unbiased viewpoint on network coverage as well as their employees’ chances to receive appropriate treatment for mental illness or substance abuse issues.

To ensure that all employees have access to care, employers should develop a comprehensive action plan which includes the following steps:

  • To maximize access to mental health benefits and substance use services, we should increase the number of providers in our network for all types of care, including inpatient, outpatient facility, and outpatient office care.
  • Ensure that your provider directories are always up-to-date, accurate, and comprehensive, so they remain accessible for plan enrollees and potential enrollees. This includes important information such as which providers are accepting new patients, their location data, contact details, specialty area, medical group affiliation, as well as any related institutional affiliations.
  • Connecting with regional and national psychiatric groups can be useful in gaining comprehension of network participation as well as improving access to quality primary and specialty care treatment for health plan members who suffer from mental health issues or substance abuse.
  • Establish equitable reimbursement rates that motivate mental health and substance use providers to participate in the health plan.
  • In order to reward and encourage full participation in our network as well as ensure access and quality, we should give monetary incentives to mental health and substance use providers who meet the established metrics.


Mental Health Parity Compliance

Studies have shown that there is an immense gap in access to mental health and substance use care services when compared with regular medical services across the nation. Employers should inquire with healthcare plan providers regarding these disparities by asking the following questions:

  • Comparing the frequency of in-network and out-of-network mental health and substance use care to medical services by level of care type, we find discrepancies among them.
  • Comparing the rate of rejections for mental health and substance use services against medical care based on their level and types.
  • In order to address discrepancies and ensure accountability, a comprehensive explanation of the disparities must be provided, along with corrective action measures that are targeted toward rectifying these issues. Additionally, an outline of milestones for meeting these objectives should be established so progress can be properly tracked.
  • It’s critical that the legal team in your organization is educated on federal and state mental health parity laws, as well as being aware of the consequences that come with disregarding these regulations.

Advancing Measurement-Based Care

It is imperative that an action plan be implemented, requiring all providers to use standardized measurement-based tools for guidance, in addition to providing aggregate outcomes data associated with the treatment of mental health and substance abuse conditions. Furthermore, it should be mandated that all enrollees are screened for depression, anxiety, psychosis, bipolar disorder, suicide, and substance abuse while tracking and reporting on treatment results must also be provided.

Expanding the Collaborative Care Model

Invest in an evidence-based collaborative care model (CoCM) by applying the collaborative care payment codes. Develop a procedure to guarantee that primary practices embrace and employ the CoCM with CPT codes. Offer group leads with training modules for collaborative care, as well as ongoing guidance and instruction on utilizing the model and codes. Furthermore, ask healthcare plan providers to create a road map for continuous technical assistance and training for in-house teams on utilizing the CoCM, as well as exercising the corresponding CPT codes.

Expanding Telepsychiatry

Employers have the ability to spread awareness of telepsychiatry by providing a toolkit with information on what it is and how it works, as well as offering training for their health plans. Additionally, employers can work to identify any obstacles blocking access to care via this modality and create an action plan to overcome them. To incentivize the expansion of telehealth services, in-person visits should be reimbursed at equal rates as those conducted virtually. By educating employees about the availability of these resources and empowering providers through supportive networks, our society can expand quality mental healthcare access quickly and effectively.


The Takeaway

By creating a comprehensive mental health strategy, we can provide a continuum of support to build resilience and aid those suffering from mental conditions. Furthermore, regular team talks about workloads, paces, objectives, and priorities will help foster better communication between staff members and the organization as well as increase their overall well-being.

Employers now have the perfect opportunity to make a difference by investing in their employee’s mental health and well-being. This is a crucial moment for us to improve our nation’s workforce with these strategies, as it will ultimately benefit everyone in terms of success and productivity.


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The Union Workforce Initiative is for educational, training, and awareness purposes only. This is not an Employee Assistance Program. We help build awareness within the workforces of employer/employee assistance professionals, substance abuse professionals, nurses, doctors, and other educational professionals.