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Six powerful takeaways from US companies on building equitable mental health

We surveyed companies covering nearly 1.5 million employees about their approach to mental health equity.

As people quit their jobs by the millions during the current pandemic, it’s clear employers have a long way to go when it comes to addressing their employees’ mental health needs.

But if you’re the leader of a business or someone with the power to influence the mental health care benefits employees receive, how do you assess these benefits and identify how you can improve them? Most importantly, are you considering the mental health needs of all employees, including marginalized populations, such as your employees of color, LGBTQ+ employees, or those with disabilities?

To answer these questions, there may be a lot to dig into and it can seem intimidating. But Big Health has a tool to help your business take stock of how equitable your company’s mental healthcare strategy is. It’s called the Mental Health Equity Assessment.

Despite the name, the Mental Health Equity Assessment isn’t just an assessment. After you take the survey, Big Health’s medical affairs team will provide actionable and evidence-based next steps to help you progress toward greater mental health equity that’s customizable to your employees’ needs.

So, what does the assessment actually entail?

To give you a better idea, let’s walk through some of what we learned when, in 2021, we used the assessment to survey companies that collectively employ almost 1.5 million people.

1. Over half of the companies surveyed, ask their employees what benefits they want.

Including your employees in the process of deciding what benefits to offer is a great first step on the path toward equitable mental healthcare. Not only will your employees likely feel more valued and heard if you involve them. It’s also important to recognize that learning about your employees’ backgrounds and unique healthcare needs will help you to provide the types of diverse mental health resources that can meet the needs of all of your employees.

To truly pinpoint your employees’ mental healthcare needs, it’s critical to uncover what barriers stand in the way of collecting this information and how you can overcome them.

2. 66% of companies ask their employees if they believe their employer cares about their mental health.

It’s no secret the pandemic has put a strain on employee mental health. From putting in even longer hours, to working parents struggling to afford childcare, to anxiety around the uncertainty of returning to the office, COVID-19 has pushed some people to their breaking points.

While asking your employees if they think you care about their mental health isn’t a panacea to their problems, it can help employees feel less alone. This question is also a foundational step toward understanding how your employees view your company and attitudes toward their mental health.

3. 88% of companies gather demographic data on which employees use mental health benefits.

While most companies don’t fully understand what bottlenecks exist that prevent historically disempowered employees from using its mental health care, they are tracking usage of benefits across demographic subgroups.

This data is helpful because it’s a critical piece of the puzzle that can tell your company which employees, especially marginalized ones, feel comfortable using mental health care and who needs more targeted outreach.

4. Companies don’t understand the challenges that prevent marginalized employees from using mental health benefits.  

It’s one thing to offer mental healthcare resources. But if employees don’t use them, employers should seek to understand who is using resources at lower rates and what is preventing engagement. Stigma, inadequate coverage, and financial hardship are just some of the reasons why employees may not seek help.

You have to know why certain groups of employees at your company aren’t using the mental health resources you offer; otherwise, how can you hope to slash the barriers that stand in their way?    

If this describes your company, you’re far from the only one. When we asked employers if they could identify barriers that prevent employees from accessing mental health benefits, only one of the companies responded “yes.” And fewer than half said “somewhat” when asked the same question. This means that many companies are just in the beginning stages of identifying gaps in mental healthcare engagement among their employees, and figuring out how to address these gaps.

5. Most companies don’t implement targeted outreach for employees that use mental health benefits at lower rates.

If you want equitable mental health to be a hallmark of your company, you can’t ignore employees who aren’t as inclined to use their employer’s mental health benefits.

Fewer than 25% of the companies surveyed specialize outreach to employees that use mental healthcare resources at lower rates. This is a missed opportunity, especially when we know fewer than one in four Black Americans who need these mental health care benefits, actually receive them.  

6. Over half of companies include digital therapeutics in their health plans.

Digital therapeutics are clinically proven treatments that teach people the skills they need to manage health conditions, including common mental health issues that get in the way of daily life such as anxiety and insomnia. But like with any health solution, it’s important to make sure that what you offer to your employees is rigorously tested so that they lead to clinically significant improvement in their symptoms. Results from a randomized controlled clinical trial of Daylight — our digital therapeutic for anxiety — revealed that 71% of people achieved clinically significant improvement in anxiety and worry.

Digital therapeutics are not only highly effective, they can also help people who have misgivings about meeting with a therapist, as these digital solutions fully automate proven behavioral approaches traditionally delivered by a therapist. While great strides have been made to destigmatize seeking mental health services, there’s still progress to be made, especially for marginalized people who often disproportionately feel stigma’s effects when seeking health care.  

Yes, cultivating mental health equity in the workplace can feel like an insurmountable challenge. But most big transformations come from the hundreds of small steps we take along the way. Mental health equity is no different. And the Mental Health Equity Assessment is a powerful first step in the right direction.

Disclaimer: In accordance with FDA’s Current Enforcement Discretion Policy for Digital Health Devices for Psychiatric Disorders, for patients aged 18 years and older, who are followed by and diagnosed with insomnia disorder or generalized anxiety disorder by a medical provider, Sleepio and Daylight can be made available as an adjunct to their usual medical care for insomnia disorder or generalized anxiety disorder, respectively. Sleepio and Daylight do not replace the care of a medical provider or the patient’s medication. Sleepio and Daylight have not been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for these indications.

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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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