Mental Health: Keep the Conversation Open

Image credit: iStockphoto/Motortion

The conversation around mental health is now more critical than ever. Research shows that the leading causes of stress are the future of a nation, financial concerns, employment, politics, violence, and crime.

Today, for many, all these areas are under immense pressure. During these unprecedented times, many are also feeling isolated from friends and family, have experienced job loss, or lost loved ones to COVID-19.

Pre-pandemic, Forrester reported that unsupported mental health conditions lead to higher medical spending, as well as employee absenteeism and presenteeism, which cost U.S. businesses billions annually. Now, as lockdowns lift and businesses tentatively look to reopen, our PandemicEX survey data shows us that 50% are afraid to go to work.

With fear and anxiety on the rise, mental health support is a critical element of any post-pandemic business continuity plan; without it, employers risk a compounded burden on employee health and productivity.

A pivotal moment for mental health

Across multiple virtual mental health vendors, we have heard the same trends:

  1. Utilization for virtual mental health visits is higher than ever.
  2. There is a greater incidence of new mental health diagnoses.
  3. The severity of existing and new conditions continues to increase.

The pandemic and national crisis around racial inequality are causing many to feel stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, sad, and angry. While these are completely normal feelings, they could have a lasting impact on mental health if not addressed.

In April 2020, diagnoses for anxiety, mood disorders, and adjustment disorders doubled compared to the pre-pandemic time frame on Amwell platforms. Consistently, across multiple platforms, anxiety, depression, and stress top the list of conditions patients deal with daily. In addition, those with existing conditions are facing new challenges, increasing the severity of their illness. 

Lyra Health and Ginger both reported an increase in their baseline scores as of May 2020, which rely on clinical assessments such as PHQ-9 (depression) and GAD-7 (anxiety) to monitor the severity of a patient’s mental health.

Virtual mental health utilization continues to climb

Ginger reported that its overall customer base grew by nearly 40% in Q1 2020. Approximately 28% of sign-ups in Q1 were driven by members from new clients that launched in Q1. A client of Lyra Health that launched its virtual mental health service for employees saw one-third of the expected annual employee registrations in just the first week of deployment. Amwell shared with Forrester that behavioral health utilization skyrocketed in mid-March 2020. By the end of March, weekly behavioral health volumes were up 285% since the beginning of the year. This did not slow down — in April, Amwell’s partners conducted more behavioral health visits than all of Q1 combined.

The good news? More programs continue to receive funding to stand up virtual care capabilities. As of June 10, the FCC had awarded funds to over 100 mental and behavioral health care providers to ensure that their patients receive the treatment and support they need during the pandemic. Furthermore, Ginger, which offers a coaching model as part of its service offering, reported in May that its members’ emotional states appeared to be calming, hearing from many coaches that the last three weeks have felt more manageable in terms of the severity of conversations and that they are seeing more members successfully engage in the coaching process.

Mental health becomes critical for Return-To-Work

When we asked about the most frequent ways patients are finding care, we heard that as many as 50% are finding services by turning to their employer first. This emphasizes the vital role that employers play in mental health support. It is imperative that employers encourage open conversations in the workplace not only about how employees are coping with the stresses of a “new normal” but also about what services are available and how to find them.

Mental health support is a critical element of any business continuity plan; without it, employers risk a compounded impact on employee health and productivity. In April 2020, Ginger released data indicating that one-third of employees are losing 2-plus hours of productivity per day, which is more than any other crisis in our recent history. Furthermore, in a recent Forrester survey, we found that 50% of respondents do not feel safe going back into work.

What can employers do?

Start the conversation at your company now if you have not already.

  • Educate managers on how to start the conversation with their employees.
  • Make resources available on internal sites and raise awareness across the business on where to find assistance.
  • Help employees understand the associated costs and options available to them.
  • Assist employees in getting connected to services that are HSA/FSA-eligible. If you do not already offer access to services, now is the time to find a partner.
  • Reach out to your health insurer or contact the vendors working in this space to understand how to best support your employees.

The original article by Arielle Trzcinski, principal analyst at Forrester, is here. Paul-Julien Giraud contributed to this blog.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of DigitalWorkforceTrends. Image credit: iStockphoto/Motortion