In this day and age, mental health should be an employer’s priority for millennial workers… and employees of all ages.
When I was growing up, mental illness wasn’t something that was openly discussed or acknowledged, and sadly often went untreated. Fortunately, today there is more awareness, due in part to the exploding millennial population and its willingness to talk more openly about mental health & wellness.
This is perhaps a bit ironic as millennials are often stereotyped as being lazy and entitled. What do they have to be worried or depressed about?
Millennials have grown up with technology and social media. Their lives are an open book; they may compare themselves to others and feel they often don’t measure up. Couple this with the fact that they are trying to move up the corporate ladder at an accelerated pace and dealing with financial stress caused by student loan debt, they may feel anxious and even depressed. According to a recent study, 20% of millennial workers report being depressed, in contrast to 16% of baby boomers and 16% of gen Xers.1
In a refreshingly honest story, Prince Harry of Great Britain recently revealed his own struggle with depression over the past 20 years in the aftermath of the death of his mother, Princess Diana. Ultimately he sought therapy and is now a cofounder of Heads Together, a United Kingdom-based charity focused on raising awareness and providing support for people with mental health issues.2
There are also signs of increased mental health & wellness awareness among employers. Consider Ben Congleton, CEO of tech firm Otark. Recently, when one of the company’s employees emailed the team to say she was taking two days off to “deal with my mental health,” Congleton applauded her for her transparency in sending the email. He called it a “reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health.”3
Ismael Rivera Ramos is the Director Human Resources and Equal Employment Opportunity Officer at The American Psychological Association. He has a unique perspective as an HR professional for an organization focused on mental health & wellness.
— Ismael Rivera Ramos, The American Psychological Association
“We (should help) our employees feel empowered to seek and take full advantage of the mental health benefits offered to them,” Ramos said. “Acknowledging the need to take care of one’s health, like taking a mental health day, should be as natural and common as one taking days off to take care of the flu, a chest cold, or upset stomach.”
So how do employers recognize the reality of depression and other mental health issues and support all employees?
1. Start with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
The often-overlooked Employee Assistance Program (EAP) may be an obvious place to start. Think about it: During your annual benefit open enrollment, how much explanation do you provide on the EAP? Do employees even know they have access to this typically company-paid benefit? Generally, EAPs include telephonic and/or in-person counseling, referrals and many other valuable resources. Employees should be encouraged to familiarize themselves with the program elements. Don’t limit communication to your annual open enrollment meeting. Instead, market the program throughout the plan year, highlighting various resources.
EAP programs that provide online resources and interactive assessments can be particularly appealing to millennials, who have a higher comfort level for digital content than most other generations. But to hook your audience, the content also needs to be aesthetically appealing and relevant. For example, topics like personal finance and stress management may attract this younger audience. Also consider having your EAP vendor participate in health or employee benefit fairs. Seek creative ways to draw employees in.
2. Highlight Mental Health Coverage in Your Medical Plans
Don’t make it taboo to talk about mental health coverage. Discuss coverage levels as you would for any other key benefit. When appropriate, direct employees to your broker’s employee advocacy service or carrier portals to find a mental health provider. One legitimate challenge is that providers may not be in-network. Remind employees to leverage their health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA) funds to offset out-of-pocket expense.
Mental health awareness: More than half of employees say they don’t know if their company offers mental well-being programs or that no support is available.
3. Telepsychiatry, an Alternative
While the prevalence of telemedicine—the practice of receiving care virtually via videoconferencing or telephonically—is becoming more mainstream for minor health issues, treatment options for mental health are now included in some services. The concept of expanding telehealth was introduced in 2015 when Medicare expanded telemedicine coverage for seven mental health services.4 This facet of telemedicine, referred to as telepsychiatry, can include psychiatric evaluations, therapy (individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy), patient education and medication management.5
Telepsychiatry treatment is appealing for those who are concerned about the stigma of mental illness or are just reticent about seeking care. It also works well for people in rural areas who may have limited access to a shrinking pool of mental health professionals. When it comes to tech savvy millennials, telepsychiatry maybe a channel of treatment choice.
Mental health & wellness should be a top concern. There are real-life ties to productivity and a decrease in absenteeism when employees are feeling their best. Ensuring they are tending to their mental health & wellness, and are aware of the resources available, can help to remove the stigma around seeking treatment.
1 eVisit “How Telemedicine is Changing Mental Health”
2 American Psychiatric Association “What is Telepsychiatry?”
3 The Center for Generational Kinetics, “What You Need To Know About Millennials And Mental Health In The Workplace”
4 Forbes, “Prince Harry Opens Up About His 20-Year Mental Struggle”
5 New York Daily News, “CEO’s Response to Employee Taking Mental Health Days Triggers National Dialogue”
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© 2017 Corporate Synergies Group, LLC. No part of this material may be republished or distributed without prior written consent.