Employee Mental Health Benefits: We Can Do Better

The pandemic has served as a wake-up call, highlighting the need for a more patient-centric, holistic mental health system that is more easily accessible for those in need. While fixing our current system will require collaboration between providers, payers, communities, and state and federal organizations, there are things that can be done now, especially in the realm of employer-sponsored mental health benefits.

40% of adults in the U.S. reported having symptoms of depression or anxiety during the pandemic.

According to research conducted by KFF, 40% of adults in the U.S. reported having symptoms of depression or anxiety during the pandemic, up from just 10% prior to the pandemic.1 Today, that number remains high at 32.8%.2

The impact of employee mental health on employers is significant. For example, unresolved depression can reduce employee productivity by as much as 35%.3 Costs incurred from turnover and days lost per employee per year due to mental health distress can exceed $10,000.4 And mental health issues typically account for up to 40% of short-term disability claims.5

It is estimated that one-third of individuals with a serious chronic illness or disease will also suffer symptoms of depression.7

While many employee benefits programs have a mental health component, it’s often offered as a standalone benefit, just like other programs for diabetes and obesity. Yet we know that mental health issues are closely connected to physical health issues, especially chronic conditions.6 To achieve the best outcomes, both mental and physical conditions need to be addressed together and at the same time.

Where to begin

The most effective mental health programs are those that align with the employee’s physical healthcare needs and are integrated into their overall care plan. The best programs will include a central resource, like a care manager, who can work with the employee’s primary care physician to ensure the employee is receiving the appropriate level of care for both their mental and physical needs at the same time. The care manager also supports the employee on their journey to wellness and educates them about their condition.

The best place to start is to review your current mental health offering by asking these questions:

If you answer “no” to any of these questions, it may be time to find a new, more holistic mental health benefits program. When looking for a partner, be sure to choose one that not only answers “yes” to the questions above, but that also ascribes to the idea of prevention and proactive assessments following the National Institute of Mental Health’s recommendations.

The role of corporate culture

In addition to implementing an integrated solution, it is also important to take an honest look at your company’s culture, especially management’s attitude toward mental illness. In one survey, less than half of employees believed their company’s leaders were advocates of mental health at work.8 In another survey, 56% of employees said their employer doesn’t provide a safe environment for employees with mental illness, and less than half were even familiar with their company’s mental health offerings.9

81% of employees surveyed said employer mental health support is an important factor when looking for future work.10

These surveys suggest there is a disconnect between what employees need in terms of mental health support and what their employers actually offer. Even the best programs won’t be effective if the company’s culture is one of hostility toward employees living with mental health challenges. Management, especially, needs to proactively communicate what offerings are available and how to access those offerings.

The journey forward

Even after the pandemic finally ends, the mental health issues brought on by the pandemic won’t simply disappear. In fact, experts predict the impact is likely to be felt for years to come.11 The good news is that for every dollar employers spend on treating and preventing mental health issues, they receive a $4 return on investment.12 If there were ever a time to implement a new, more integrated mental health benefits program, now is that time.


  1. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/
  2. https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/adults-reporting-symptoms-of-anxiety-or-depressive-disorder-during-covid-19-pandemic/
  3. https://www.mcleanhospital.org/essential/what-employers-need-know-about-mental-health-workplace
  4. https://www.nsc.org/newsroom/new-mental-health-cost-calculator-demonstrates-why
  5. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/ca/Documents/about-deloitte/ca-en-about-blueprint-for-workplace-mental-health-final-aoda.pdf
  6. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/chronic-illness-mental-health
  7. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9288-chronic-illness-and-depression
  8. https://hbr.org/2021/10/its-a-new-era-for-mental-health-at-work
  9. https://www.mhanational.org/mind-workplace
  10. https://www.apa.org/pubs/reports/work-well-being/2022-mental-health-support
  11. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/02/10/covid-pandemic-mental-health-damage-could-last-a-generation.html
  12. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/pe/Documents/strategy/Progrmas%20de%20salud%20mental.pdf
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