The Silent and Painful Driver of Employer Health Costs

When a friend or family member is injured or comes down with an illness, our natural reaction is to encourage and help them find the care they need. Whether it’s to drive them to the emergency room if it is an immediate problem, or to help them find the right care for a less urgent need, we understand that timely diagnosis and care is important.

But, how often do we know when that same friend or family member is suffering from a mental health condition? According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly one in five American adults experienced a mental health condition in 2016, and less than half of those received any care or attention. As the month of May, Mental Health Awareness Month, comes to a close, it offers an important opportunity for all of us to examine how we can help overcome this challenge and help those in need.

For employers, this question is critically important. Employers provide health coverage for about half of all Americans, and work is where we spend most of our time. Mental health conditions left untreated have a profound effect on the American workforce, our families and communities.

The consequences of undiagnosed and untreated mental health conditions have become all too familiar in the national headlines. But before they get to the headline state, they are associated with decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, higher overall healthcare costs for employees and employers, and other comorbidities. The cost to U.S. businesses alone is between $79 and $105 billion a year.

Looking at data from some of the larger employers whom we have the privilege of serving, the most common mental health and substance use conditions in the workforce over the past two years are:

  1. Substance use disorders (such as addiction to alcohol or an illicit drug)
  2. Pervasive and specific developmental disorders (such as Autism)
  3. Schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders
  4. Behavioral syndromes associated with physiological disturbances and physical factors (including sleeping disorders or eating disorders)
  5. Depression and other mood affective disorders

You can begin to imagine the challenges these conditions create for the individuals suffering them and their loved ones as well as their colleagues at work and employers. Fortunately, there is something employers can do to help. Most importantly, employers have the power to help employees navigate the fragmented mental health care delivery system, access the right provider, and manage their care in a way that meets the employee where they are in their health journey.

What we see works:

  • personalized communications about mental health and employees’ own risk factors in a timely, relevant, and respectful manner;
  • increased access to high-quality, affordable mental health care through care guidance and teletherapy solutions that reduce the barriers of access and stigma that plague mental health care;
  • efforts to support a dialog and cultural change to reduce the stigma of mental health conditions;
  • and, make available innovations in self-care, such as digital cognitive behavioral therapy (CCBT) and Castlight’s Elevate, or our programs available through our digital health partners such as Whil, Big Health, or MyBrainSolutions.

Ultimately, the key to a successful mental health benefits program is ensuring those in need can access and navigate their health resources in a timely, private, and personalized manner. When we can help employees get the right care at the right time, we can truly change lives. At Castlight, we’re dedicated to building the technology to do just that.