To Support Workforce Mental Health, Start with Stigma 

May 23 2019

In support of the important aim of Mental Health Awareness Month, we want to take some time to reflect on what employers can do to reduce stigma associated with mental health problems. A recent Forbes article makes a persuasive argument why stigma needs to be a thing of the past and offers suggestions for changing  the way we talk about mental health in the workplace.  Building an organizational culture that embraces vulnerability and encourages employees to be their authentic self has proven to increase performance, engagement, retention, and the overall wellbeing of employees.

As more employers take on this challenge, the success stories are accumulating.  You can read about one of them in a whitepaper on employer innovation in health care, published last year by Mercer and the American Benefits Council, that describes Boeing’s multi-faceted approach to supporting behavioral health. Recognizing that mental health professionals are in short supply and that stigma can prevent people from seeking help, Boeing actively partners with its Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) to integrate behavioral health into the primary care setting, with the aim of connecting members to the right care at first contact. The program provides ACO members with same-day telephone or video access to a psychiatrist or doctoral psychologist for free. Additional care needs are met through referrals to the most appropriate type of care.

Another encouraging trend is the growing number of employers placing EAP counselors in the workplace or within onsite clinics.  Not only do more people take advantage of the EAP resource, but the presence of onsite counselors also supports efforts to combat stigma. It shows that meeting behavioral health needs is a good thing and that the employer supports their members getting this type of help.

Building a culture of awareness and a language of caring is essential to educating employees, building trust and reinforcing that it’s ok to not feel ok; and that the organization has programs and services to meet a variety of needs.  Of course, while raising awareness, employers will want to make sure the underlying programs that are in place are easy to find, accessible and equipped to provide a good member experience.

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