A Walk Towards Hope, One Step At A Time

By JDXpert - November 14, 2018

A few weeks ago, HRTMS participated in the Walk For Hope, an annual walk that helps fund life-saving research for the treatment of mental illnesses like PTSD, depression, dementia, and anxiety disorders. Like all of us, each member of our team has been affected by mental illness. We walked that day for our spouses, our children, our friends, and even ourselves who face every day with uncertainty but hope for a better tomorrow.

Before joining HRTMS, the subject of mental illness and the promotion of mental health was never really a topic spoken of at former workplaces. If anything, it was implied that you were not to talk about your mental health because your insurance rates would increase (not sure if this was actually true or not) or your employer would question your work and your employment. You were to deal with your illness silently, brushing off bad days as being sick or in a bad mood. Today, companies are becoming wise to that fact that a larger percentage of their workforce faces mental health issues, either personally or tangentially, at some point in their lifetime. According to statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), that’s one out of every four of us. Because we spend so much of our lives in the office, it’s critical for employers to understand and support their employees. Offering services and educating yourself about mental illness is not only the right thing to do, but it also helps maintain production and profitability. Depression and anxiety, for example, is estimated to cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. According to WHO, workplaces that promote mental health and support employees with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains. As we learn more about mental illness and its effect in the workplace, companies are beginning to implement programs that positively impact the mental health of their employees.

Although the Mental Health Parity And Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) and the Affordable Healthcare Act have helped equalize care by requiring Insurers to cover mental health and substance abuse treatment as they would any physical condition, it does not mean there aren’t still barriers for employees seeking treatment. According to an article by NPR, Milliman, a risk management and health care consulting company, found that mental health services were four to six times more likely to be out-of-network when compared to medical or surgical care. Before choosing or renewing your company’s medical plan this year, verify that employees can access numerous providers in-network.

Another benefit to consider is offering a Health Savings Account (HSA), particularly if your company has a high deductible plan. Employees with high deductible healthcare plans tend to not see the value in using their insurance to pay for mental health  services. Instead they would rather forgo treatment or counseling and reserve their out-of-pocket expenses for major hospitalization or planned procedures. They might be more inclined to use their benefits if they had funds readily available to them through their HSA accounts.

More and more companies are also adding wellness to their benefits portfolio. Proper diet, exercise and relaxation techniques are all proven to help promote good mental health. Offering gym membership discounts, nutrition counseling, or even massage therapy can be highly beneficial and can be a great perk for employees.

A benefits package is only as good as its promotion. All too often we deem a program unsuccessful when in fact, the real culprit was the communication strategy. Set up an employee portal where employees can go to learn about and view available benefits. Provide and market lunch-and-learn events where wellness vendors can come to share information about their services. And make sure managers are aware of and share with their staff where or whom they can go to for more information. 

Work-related stress can affect anyone, but it can be paralyzing for those living with a mental health condition. There are, however, a number of things you can do to help alleviate stressors in your work environment. Begin by observing your culture and surroundings. How do employees react to common stressors and how does management handle those reactions? Does your company culture advance or hinder a positive work environment? Is management equipped with the knowledge and tools needed to support all employees, especially distressed employees? Fostering a positive workplace that values openness, acceptance, understanding and compassion can go a long way. An inclusive and stigma-free environment can boost morale, productivity, overall well-being, and even company branding.

Often, those challenged by mental illness feel alone and do not know where they can turn for support. Offer seminars or invite speakers to share their stories of how they maintain their mental health. Hearing from those who find success and lead productive, fulfilling lives while challenged with a mental illness, can show employees that they can thrive with the right support. Establish an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that can provide direct access to confidential professionals who can assist employees with any area of concern that may be causing them distress. EAP team members can direct an employee to counseling sessions in their area or refer them to short-term treatment programs. Train managers on how to handle situations with compassion and where they can direct employees for help. Also, it is a good idea to have at least one individual trained in intervention coaching. This person, usually someone in HR, should make it known that if an employee needs to speak about a matter privately, he/she can come to them during established office hours.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other nondiscrimination laws, most employers must provide "reasonable accommodations" to qualified employees with disabilities. Most employers are familiar with different accommodations for physical and communication disabilities but are only recently becoming more versed on accommodations that can be made for those with a mental illness. Many of these employees can still perform the essential functions of a job with a bit of tweaking. Modifications may include: a flexible workplace or work hours, frequent breaks, job coaching, a private or enclosed workspace, allowing employees to listen to music via a headset, a desk near a window with access to natural light, advanced notice of deadlines, segmenting large projects into more manageable tasks, and visual project progression timelines. And of course, make sure employees are aware of how they can request an accommodation.

I’ve participated in charity walks before, but this one affected me deeply. To see thousands of people walk together to support a cause that many still shy away from, made my heart full. The stigma of mental illness is slowly subsiding; and my hope is that one day, all workplaces will be proactive about the mental health of its employees. By participating in this walk, HRTMS is optimistic that our involvement will encourage other organizations to join the fight, or at least, show the importance of acknowledging mental illness.

www.thebalancecareers.com, www.who.int, www.cms.gov, www.npr.org, www.dol.gov



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