Mental Health in the Workplace: The Role of Online Therapy

man sitting at a desk looking at his computer with a headache

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It’s no secret that mental health issues have a significant impact on businesses and employees. Mental illness affects people’s concentration and detracts from job performance. It results in more workplace absences. It impairs communication and collaboration among employees. It even has an impact on people’s physical abilities and bodily health.

The real human toll of mental health issues is reflected in the bottom line. Employees at high risk for depression incur 48% more medical expenses than coworkers who are not at risk.  They tend to take more sick days. And their impaired physical and cognitive performance undermines productivity.

Talk Isn’t Cheap

Forward-thinking businesses understand that addressing mental health issues is not an easy task, nor can it be done in isolation. Although some mental illnesses can now be addressed through psychopharmacology, some conditions require attention in different ways. Human communication is vital to healing and recovery. That’s why some companies have moved toward hiring licensed clinical psychologists to treat employees free of charge and without it counting against employees’ sick time.

Health insurance plans generally cover mental health services to some degree, but coverage is often limited, especially when it comes to the “talk therapy” appointments that are so vital to recovery. Those with insurance can expect co-pays of between $30 and $50 per session, while those without coverage may see charges from $68 to $250 per session. These costs may deter employees from getting the kind of help they need most.

The Online Option

In recent years, online therapy has become an accessible solution for those seeking the benefits of one-to-one therapeutic conversations. Many online therapy apps and websites are now available to employees—and many businesses are including online therapy and other telemedicine options in their health and wellness benefits.

Online therapy is somewhat less expensive than conventional once-a-week face-to-face therapy. Moreover, many online therapy platforms offer daily contact with a therapist via text message instead of a therapy appointment at a set time every week. In this way, symptoms can be addressed in therapy in near-real time, rather than during a once-weekly or -monthly session.

While licensed therapists may be easy to find in larger cities, smaller towns often have fewer therapeutic resources. Since online therapy isn’t location-dependent, it’s equally accessible to urban and rural dwellers.

Not For Everyone

Understandably, there is debate in the medical and therapeutic communities about the value of online therapy. Some make the point that much of the nuance of human communication is lost when it’s reduced to text messages or even to Skype chats. However, others point out that some people feel more comfortable opening up to someone on the other end of a chat window than to someone sitting across a desk from them. People who are introverted, shy, or more comfortable writing about their feelings may actually do better with online therapy than with the traditional version.

What proponents and critics of online therapy agree on is that it’s not for everyone. Employees who have severe mental illness, and who aren’t comfortable or adept with technology shouldn’t be treated remotely. Individuals who are suffering from abuse or whose mental illness puts them in physical peril need immediate intervention and treatment. Online therapists cannot assist patients who are in crisis.

It’s Good for Business

For businesses, the potential benefits of making online therapy available to employees include:

    •     Increased productivity
    •     Fewer sick days
    •     Lower net health care costs
    •     Healthier employees and improved group dynamics

Including online therapy as an employee benefit may be part of a general corporate project to de-stigmatize mental illness and to encourage employees to address mental health concerns as matter-of-factly as they deal with other medical issues. These projects can include peer-to-peer assistance, on-site counseling, mental health awareness programs, and stress management workshops. The Centers for Disease Control have published profiles of some of the innovative programs that businesses in a variety of industries have put together along these lines. Online therapy can be a part of such programs.

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