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Employers are investing in mental health solutions: what’s the value?

Measuring the value of mental health benefits has been a challenge for employers. As employee demand rises, how do we know if an intervention is worth it?

Measuring the value of mental health benefits has long been a vexing calculus for employers. As employee demand rises, it presents the question: How do we know if it’s worth it? An important study by Forrester Research, which launched today, illuminates just how pervasive mental health problems have become for the workforce and their impact on corporate well-being.

The report tells us that, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health difficulties were the cause of 200 million workdays lost annually by U.S. employers or the equivalent of $16.8 billion in lost employee productivity and engagement. Perhaps even more alarmingly, employers’ healthcare spend was 300% higher for individuals who did not have access to or engage with a mental health service compared to those who did. The research corroborates what employers have experienced: in the end, it costs significantly more not to invest in mental health benefits. But, as employers plan for a post-COVID-19 world, how can they quantify what mental health investments will have the greatest impact?

The COVID-19 effect

The COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on mental health has been catastrophic, accelerating both the presence of poor mental health and its impact on individual happiness and productivity. About four-in-ten U.S. adults have experienced worry and anxiety or low mood during the pandemic, up from one-in-ten adults who reported having those experiences in 2019. The greater need for mental health care triggered by COVID-19, further exposes the gaps in access and engagement that have frustrated employees and their employers.

About 60% of Americans who experience mental health difficulties receive no care whatsoever — placing a greater strain on them during the pandemic, as problems including sleeplessness, worry and anxiety, and low mood have presented themselves. The range of mental health problems affecting employees places a further challenge on employers: the traditional one-size-fits all approach to mental health care cannot address the needs of all employees. The complexity and nuance of mental health difficulties requires a coordinated suite of solutions.

Traditional talk therapy — long the “go to” employee mental health benefit — cannot meet the full needs of a diverse workforce due to barriers such as access, availability, and cost. Mental health providers are in short supply, with more than 75% of U.S. counties considered to be mental health shortage areas and more than half of U.S. counties reporting that they have no mental health professionals at all. People must wait an average of 25 days for an appointment, and certain geographies experience even longer wait times. Plus, the costs are high for both employers and employees. Even with insurance, 60 percent of employees pay out-of-pocket costs. Those barriers, along with the difficulty of attending care during the workday, have made traditional talk therapy inaccessible for a majority of the workforce. Its value — and it certainly does benefit employees — can’t be scaled for the soaring need that employers are seeing.

Reaching more employees with technology

Innovation has transformed mental health care; it was inconceivable a decade ago that technology could provide therapeutic value to people suffering from mental health difficulties. How could something that employees engage with on a device, on their own time, have clinical value? And how could its outcomes be proved? But that’s exactly where great innovation in mental health care has surfaced.

Big Health’s digital solution Sleepio has been a breakthrough approach for millions of people suffering from poor sleep. Because it is portable, highly personalized, available 24×7, and low cost, it demonstrates how technology, and changes in consumption, can finally begin to combat the mental health crisis.

In a study done in partnership with IBM Watson Health, Big Health saw 28% lower annualized healthcare costs for employees at a Fortune 500 company who used Sleepio compared to those who did not. When employers consider how to measure “value” in their mental health benefits investment, it will be most useful to ask a single question: what type of solution will help the most employees? Let the following criteria guide you:

  • Ease of use
  • Satisfying employees experience
  • Documentation of clinical outcomes
  • Cost of use
  • Integration with health benefits

To learn more, I invite you to visit the Forrester Mental Health Calculator, or visit Big Health’s health economic data examining the value of employers’ mental health benefits. Please contact us at: consulting@bighealth.com if you have any questions!

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During the COVID-19 public health emergency, Sleepio and Daylight are being made available as treatments for insomnia disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), respectively, without a prescription. Sleepio and Daylight have not been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of insomnia disorder and GAD, respectively.

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