Supporting Employee Mental Health in Today’s Workplace

Young woman sitting on the sofa while talking with her doctor over a laptop.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to increase mental health issues nationally, addressing the needs of employees dealing with these challenges is critical to business restart and recovery.

The Detroit Regional Chamber and the Economic Alliance for Michigan hosted a virtual employer roundtable with members in the health and wellness space to discuss strategies for supporting employee mental health in response to COVID-19. Presenters included Michelle Fullerton, director and group customer advocate for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM); Darcy Gruttadaro, director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health; and Dr. Amy McKenzie, medical director of provider engagement at BCBSM.

Gruttadaro shared data from the American Psychological Association highlighting the increase in demand and access to mental health care. Anxiety and depression symptoms have more than tripled since 2019. She outlined the LEAD model for employers to utilize when addressing mental health:

L – Leadership

    • Be reassuring of your organization’s support.
    • Normalize mental health in the workplace by using correct terminology – depression, anxiety, trauma, substance use disorders, etc.
    • Show empathy and vulnerability by speaking to personal experiences when comfortable.
    • Make mental health visible withing your organization.

E – Effective Communication

    • Make it a routine to communicate with and listen to employees about their mental health.
    • Be an available trusted source.

A – Adapt to Change

    • Be willing to adapt and change policies to better serve your workforce’s needs.
    • Be flexible with deadlines where possible.

D – Double Down on Access

    • Focus on prevention. Share signs of common mental health conditions and promote early access to care, share stress management strategies, promote resiliency, meditation, and mindfulness.
    • Form employee resource groups around mental health to provide a comfortable peer-to-peer space.
    • Remind employees of your company’s Employee Assistance Program benefits.
    • Make sure resources and tools are available online.

Visit http://workplacementalhealth.org/covid19tips for guides and additional information.

Michelle Fullerton discussed the growing concern for behavioral health and its impact on quality of life for BCBSM members including shorter lifespan, higher total cost of care, and an overall fragmented experience within the health system.

Behavioral health patients accumulate:

    • 2-5 times more medical claims
    • 6 times more emergency room visits
    • 2 times in total spend compared to non-behavioral health patients

Resources for employers

Dr. McKenzie outlined behavioral health initiatives aimed toward expanding access to care. Below is BCBSM’s comprehensive set of solutions:

    • Blue Cross Coordinated Care: Supports members who are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. The targeted criteria have been expanded for Care Management programs.
    • MyStrength: An online tool to support the needs of members with self-guided tools, video modules, and text-based engagement coaching to help work through everyday life stressors. Topics include coping skills, processing emotions, parenting, relationships, and more.
    • Collaborative Care Model: This program delivers mental health care to members with a team led by a primary care provider, behavioral health care manager, and consulting psychiatrist. This model streamlines coordination between different health specialties and helps psychiatrists reach more patients.
    • Telehealth: Blue Cross Online Visits have experienced a 259% increase in behavioral health visits in the last year. Telehealth options include:
      • A 24-hour crisis line or nurse line.
      • Group virtual therapy sessions.
      • Diagnostic psychiatric and psychological evaluations.
      • Psychotherapy sessions, including crisis response and family therapy.
      • Substance use disorder support.
    • Substance Use Disorder: The Community-Based Life-Changing Individualized Medically Assisted Evidence-Based Treatment (CLIMB) program minimizes risk of exposure to COVID-19 for patients with substance-use disorder by bringing treatment to their home. The CLIMB program works to stabilize the condition, develop a treatment plan, and incorporates families throughout the support process to minimize risk of relapse.
    • Stigma Campaign: Studies show 38% of behavioral health cases go untreated due to lack of self-recognition. BCBSM is coordinating a campaign to decrease stigma around anxiety and depression.

For more information about how to offer these programs to your employees, contact your BCBSM group representative or visit https://www.bcbsm.com/.