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Managing Mental Health Treatment for Union Members

By Heather Kerrigan | Oct 24, 2018

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2016, 44.7 million adults — nearly 1 in 5 — struggled with a mental illness, and an estimated 35 million received mental health treatment.

Providing your members easy access to the psychological care they need is vital to ensuring that they remain healthy, happy and productive on the job. Here's what you need to know.

Varying Options for Psychiatric Care

Care for mental health concerns can be provided in an office setting, preferably within a wide-ranging network that offers convenience to members, though an increasing number of online tools are available that not only reduce costs but benefit those who travel for work, reside in rural areas or otherwise lack easy access to transportation.

Online care has the added benefit of reducing anxiety about missing work or explaining an absence. "Online counseling solutions enable employees to feel comfortable reaching out to get the help they need because it's low cost [and] they can do it privately," Jeff Williams, senior director of business development and PR at BetterHelp told Entrepreneur. "t's available from anywhere at any time; and people feel more able to open up about their problems when shielded behind a computer or mobile screen."

Tools like LiveHealth Online Psychiatry provide quick access through a computer or mobile device to board-certified psychiatrists who can provide treatment for mental health concerns.

In addition to offering members online or in-person care, the board should find ways to accommodate and reduce stress for members who may be suffering from common mental health disorders. This includes:

  • Doing whatever possible to facilitate better work-life balance
  • Making available mental health or stress-management courses
  • Introducing education programs that address common stressors, such as debt-management
  • Encouraging physical activity
  • Helping members navigate prescription drug offerings to better manage their mental health treatment programs

Making the Decision to Provide Mental Health Services

Under the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, group health insurance plans must provide a certain level of mental health benefits. While it's up to the board to determine whether those should be expanded to provide more robust coverage and easier-to-access services, research indicates that there is a significant return on investment for expanding treatment options. A study led by the World Health Organization found that for every $1 invested in expanded treatment options for mental health disorders, there is a $4 return on investment.

The costs associated with lack of access to adequate care aren't just related to absenteeism — they extend to presenteeism as well. An Inc. article reported that "employees suffering from depression cost employers more than $44 billion per year in lost productivity, with more than 81 percent of that lost productivity coming in the form of presenteeism." A board doesn't just need to keep members on the job, they also need to remain productive.

Communicating With Members

Once the decision has been made to provide expanded mental health services, the board should develop a communication plan to ensure members understand what has been made available to them. Any efforts should be consistent, as repeated efforts create higher engagement on health and wellness issues, which in turn incentivizes the use of health offerings and the desire to improve personal wellness.

Talking about mental health can be difficult. It's important for the board to talk regularly with members about mental health, not just to build trust and confidence in the board, but also to break down the stigma those seeking or considering mental health treatment might feel. Members must understand that they won't judged or penalized for seeking mental health treatment but that the board instead encourages members to take care of their mental health.

Consider providing members confidential online screening tools to help them better understand risk factors and treatment needs for various types of psychiatric concerns, and train stewards to identify signs of mental health concerns and respond appropriately.

Offering robust mental health coverage and creating an open dialogue about the offerings can benefit both the board and members through higher productivity, more time on the job and greater overall wellness. It's vital for the board to carefully consider what options should be made available, specifically those offered online or through wider care networks.

Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine, reporting on state and local politics and policy, with a specific focus on public workforce, environment, health care, education and technology issues. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including serving as volume editor and lead author for SAGE Publications' Historic Documents series and editor-in-chief of The Kanter Journal. Heather also blogs for two government-focused publications, GovLoop and NEOGOV, covering issues of importance to federal employees. Heather is the author of the book Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.

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