Taking Away the Barriers in the Workforce to Improved Mental Health

November 26, 2018

Mental illness is a growing problem in this country and treatment options are sparse. Fortunately, as an employer, you can take steps to make it easier for your employees to seek help.

The Problem

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five American adults has suffered from mental illness at some time.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, serious mental illness can lead to chronic medical conditions and costs the United States $193.2 billion annually in lost earnings. The alliance also estimates that adults living with serious mental illness on average die 25 years earlier than others, even when many of the conditions are treatable. In addition, those who don’t seek treatment often choose to self-medicate, using alcohol or drugs. Poor mental health also can lead to poor productivity; low employee morale; and legal risks to the company when an employee can no longer cope.

Even if you offer your employees access to a group health plan, that doesn’t mean the treatment of depression, emotional issues or relationship problems will be addressed with counseling or medications.

As an employer, you have the ability to offer services and to send a message that it’s OK to seek treatment. Here are a few steps you can take to ensure your employees have options to safeguard or increase their mental health.


Required by law

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” to help people with mental health conditions do their jobs. The ADAAA does not list which conditions must be given accommodations but instead gives a general definition of who should receive accommodations. The accommodations are necessary because someone with a mental health condition might not be able to focus, process information, think clearly, remember details, organize thoughts or stop and start an action.

Accommodations can range from supplying headphones to block out distracting noises to adjusting a work schedule. Sometimes an employee can feel less stressed if they are allowed to bring their service animal to work.


Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) give employees free telephone access to a counselor, nurse or health provider to discuss marital and financial issues and substance abuse and mental health problems. EAPs also can provide assistance with other concerns, including finding childcare; providing legal assistance; and negotiating medical bills. For serious conditions, the counselor or nurse can provide referrals for long-term counseling or specialized care.

It’s important that a third-party administrator provide these benefits so employees will feel comfortable discussing their problems and knowing that the information will not be shared with their employer.

Group Health Plan

If you provide your employees with a health insurance plan or are considering offering one, check to see if it includes mental health coverage. Mental health services should include outpatient and inpatient treatment, telemedicine, medication and counseling.

It’s critical that the behavioral health plan offers quicker pre-certification and claims handling than standard health care insurance. The plan should have access to medications that treat problems ranging from depression to substance abuse.


As mentioned, telemedicine is a valuable tool to address mental health concerns so employees can simply call and receive advice. The service differs from an EAP in that the online telemedicine physician has access to their medical files and often can prescribe medication over the phone or by computer.

There still is a feeling of anonymity, so patients can get care in the privacy of their home.


Leadership Training

An employee who is suffering from a mental illness may not be comfortable seeking help, but their symptoms could manifest at work. You should train your managers to spot mental illness; to address the issue with the employee, and know where to refer the employee for assistance.

Financial Literacy and Stress Education

Stress can lead to anxiety and depression, as can financial hardship. Educational seminars on financial literacy can give employees the skills they need to manage resources effectively. Resiliency training and stress management can focus on preventative care.

For help on how to address mental health issues with your employee benefits plan, please contact us.