We recently participated in Nice Healthcare's event with the Minnesota Vikings, “How an Integrated Approach Can Best Address Mental Health.” We talked with an incredible group of leaders, including Dena Bravata, MD, Co-Founder of Lyra Health and Advisor to many health tech startups, Kendra Ripp, DNP, VP of Clinical Services at Nice Healthcare, Lindsey Young, Staff Writer and Editor at the Minnesota Vikings, and Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks. We discussed how to create a workplace that promotes and honors mental health, how benefit managers can foster a supportive work environment, and what employers need to know about employee mental health.
Think about barriers to care: Look at your employee population and discuss its unique barriers to mental health care. How can you help address those barriers?
Create awareness around your mental health services: Make sure employees know what services are available to them so they know where to turn before they are in a crisis.
Create an open and empathetic work environment: The most important thing you can do is create a work environment where employees feel supported and able to be open and vulnerable. Employees want to hear from peers, managers, and the C-Suite about mental health.
In the past two years, mental health has become a greater focus for all of us, especially in the workplace. The Mind Share Partners 2021 Healthy at Work Report found that 84% of respondents reported at least one workplace factor that negatively impacted their mental health. Additionally, they reported that the most desired “resource” for mental health was an open culture about mental health at work. Employers can help create a mentally healthy culture at work by providing flexibility, promoting autonomy, establishing boundaries, and emphasizing the importance of empathy and authenticity. Additionally, the biggest influence on a company’s mental health program is engagement from the CEO and other top executives.
Some benefit managers wanted to better understand why people may not access mental healthcare. The truth is, as Dr. Bravata deftly explained, “every population has a different barrier to accessing [care].” She explained that many individuals in the military fear that accessing mental health services would be visible on their military records. For others, the cost is a barrier, and some people live in mental health deserts or the 570 counties in the U.S. that do not have any psychologists, psychiatrists, or therapists. Additionally, Eric mentioned that many of his teammates feel that time is a barrier for accessing mental health care.
"Dr. Bravata emphasized that each "employer needs to understand the biggest access barriers for their own population. Once employers understand what is keeping their employees from accessing care, they can build tailored solutions to address these barriers. For example, Dr. Ripp explained that at Nice Healthcare, they are “seeing people who are accessing mental health care for the first time because of cost.” Nice Healthcare is an employee benefit that gives people a variety of primary care services including mental health therapy, at no cost to the employee.
Another barrier to accessing mental health services is stigma, which can feel like an even bigger burden in the workplace. According to a recent McKinsey report, 75% of employees think mental health stigma exists in the workplace. Lindsey detailed a time she shared her mental health journey at a previous job, and her manager approached her afterward, saying, “I hope you don’t expect special treatment.” Flippant comments like this, especially from leadership, can discourage people from sharing their struggles and accessing mental health care.
Eric explained his perspective on a football team, and he’s found that “men in general bottle things up, [we’re told to] tough it out and handle your business.” He emphasized that luckily we’re starting to see other athletes around the world, such as Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, Kevin Love, and many others, using their platform to talk about their mental health struggles. And talking about these issues can tremendously reduce the stigma associated with them. This is what helped spark the idea for Lindsey's Getting Open Series, which showcases members of the Vikings organization speaking openly about mental health.
Seeing others be vocal about their mental health struggles lessens the stigma associated with mental health. Eric explained, “We’re all going through these things. It’s important to not only acknowledge it but reach out to those around you.”
If we can understand the barriers to accessing mental health resources and how stigma plays a role, we can consider how employers can be part of the solution. Dr. Ripp encouraged employers to incorporate and advertise “more preventative solutions so people can have treatment or coping skills before there’s a crisis.” Dr. Bravata explained that many people don’t know what mental health benefits they have until they experience a crisis, at which point it is incredibly difficult to navigate. In fact, Mental Health America found that only 47% of employees know about their mental health services, and only 38% would feel comfortable using them. Employers should invest in mental health solutions for the workplace. Furthermore, they should embrace and advertise available solutions to create a company-wide culture of mental health awareness and support.
The most important thing that employers can do, as Lindsey explained, is “[make] sure that the workplace feels safe.” Dr. Bravata emphasized the importance of “having vulnerable leadership…to normalize these feelings for the employees and [to] have an explicit policy around non-retaliation.” Leadership sets the tone for the rest of the company, and a recent Ginger report found that 90% of employees appreciate a CEO that discusses mental health.
Panelists advised that a multi-pronged approach to discussing mental health in the workplace is most effective to help employees feel more comfortable with seeking out and using the mental health tools that employers invest in. The best way those conversations can take place is through open communication about mental health from all stakeholders who interact with employees: peers, direct managers, and leadership.
To hear more conversations like this, you can access all of our 2022 virtual sessions with employers, benefits consultants, telehealth leaders, health plans, and more within the Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech free video library here.