Better Mental Health Benefits and How to Access Them

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How employers are expanding mental and behavioral health benefits coverage and how and why you should access these services when you need them.

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Covid-19, remote work, school closures, no childcare, no self-care, no hugs from loved ones, no social events – it’s no wonder the last 18 months has turned a spotlight on mental health. While the need for mental and behavioral health and substance use disorder services and treatment has always been present, the pandemic has shown the cracks in our healthcare system where mental health is concerned.

If you suffer from mental health issues like stress, burnout, depression, anxiety and related self-medicating tactics like substance use, you’re not alone. Almost 20 percent of US adults experience mental illness in a given year and 83 percent of US workers surveyed said they suffer from work-related stress. One in five feel angry. Twenty-seven percent of employees reported they want support for stress, burnout and other mental health issues and 70 percent said they had difficulty accessing care for these issues.

The good news is, employers are taking note.

Expanded and easier to access employer provided mental health benefits

Employers are addressing the mental health needs of their employees in a few different ways.

  1. Expanded insurance coverage for mental health services and treatment for substance use disorder. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) designates mental health and substance use disorder services including counseling and psychotherapy as essential health benefits that must be covered by small group health plans. These benefits must be covered at the same rate and under the same deductible as medical and surgical services according to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA). In addition, screening for depression and alcohol misuse and counseling are considered preventative care and are covered without cost-sharing. Large group plans and employers who self-insure are not subject to the ACA or MHPAEA rules, but about 70 percent of surveyed employers surveyed by McKinsey, large and small, say they plan to introduce more mental health support including expanded insurance coverage.
  2. Access to telehealth and virtual counseling services. The pandemic has made in-person treatment more difficult to access so some companies are expanding coverage for virtual treatment to ensure their employees get the help they need.
  3. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). EAPs are intended to help employees solve a range of problems including: financial issues, stress and non-work conflicts.
  4. Mental health days. Mental health days are just like PTO or sick days, but for when you’re feeling stressed out and/or overwhelmed.
  5. Access to wellness apps. Some companies are sponsoring access to wellness apps like Calm that offer meditations, yoga, calming music, and personalized mental and physical well-being solutions.

Why you should utilize your company’s mental health benefits

Historically, many have felt there was a negative stigma around seeking and receiving treatment for mental health issues. But employers are trying to change that by developing a culture of inclusion. Even if you feel as though you might be judged, there are many reasons to seek mental health services, a few of which we’ve outlined below.

  1. Mental health services can help you solve your problems. Whatever you’re struggling with, trying to solve it on your own, without any support or help can feel overwhelming and potentially make your situation more difficult. By seeking counseling, therapy or other treatment, you give yourself the best chance at achieving good mental health.
  2. Addressing mental and behavioral health and substance use issues can improve your career trajectory. People who use mental health services when they need them have fewer missed work days. In fact, people with anxiety and depression miss on average 6 times more work days than people without a mental health condition. It can be challenging to advance in your career if you’re out of work often. People who utilize mental health services also have higher return-to-work rates after a mental health-related disability leave of absence. In addition, taking care of your work-related stress can help prevent burnout so you can continue to do your best work and shine.
  3. Improve your mental health and you improve your physical wellbeing. Mental health isn’t isolated from physical health – studies have shown that people with anxiety and depression are more likely to suffer from heart disease and cancer, and stress can cause a host of issues including high blood pressure, diabetes, and teeth grinding.

How to access your company’s mental health benefits

  1. Know what mental health benefits your company offers. Your company could communicate this in a variety of ways. If your employer has a health benefits website, its mental health benefits should be detailed there. Your manager or a C-suite executive could issue a memorandum or send an email outlining the company’s offerings or the communication could come from your HR department. If you haven’t received any communication about your company’s mental health benefits or you can’t find the communication in your emails or elsewhere, reach out to your HR department or manager.
  2. Find an in-network provider. The most affordable way to access mental health services is to see an in-network provider. To do this, look on your health insurance company’s website under “Find a Provider”. It might take a few tries before you find a therapist or other mental health professional with whom you work well, so don’t give up if things don’t “click” after the first couple tries.
  3. Use your HSA. You can use your HSA funds to pay for all mental health services tax-free.

Accessing mental and behavioral health and substance use disorder services and treatment when you need them is essential to surviving in this modern world. And more and more employers are recognizing that facilitating and supporting said access is essential to having a thriving and productive workforce. There is no shame in needing help. If you’re unclear as to which resources are available to you or how to access them, reach out to your HR department.

Be safe. Get healthy.

Disclaimer: the content presented in this article are for informational purposes only, and is not, and must not be considered tax, investment, legal, accounting or financial planning advice, nor a recommendation as to a specific course of action. Investors should consult all available information, including fund prospectuses, and consult with appropriate tax, investment, accounting, legal, and accounting professionals, as appropriate, before making any investment or utilizing any financial planning strategy.

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