Investing in Workplace Mental Health: Employers are Taking Notice

More robust mental health benefits are becoming important to employers as they evaluate health plans for their employees. Denee Levineau, for one, has noticed the increased interest. As a Proposal Consultant at Kaiser Permanente, she sees more than 100 requests for information on plan offerings every year from companies.

“In the last few years, we’ve seen more specific questions as to how to reduce an organization’s health care costs,” says Levineau. “Companies are asking about how we’re managing specialty medications and what we’re doing about cost transparency. Online medicine and wellness programs are also on people’s minds. An issue that particularly stands out is behavioral or mental health.”

The Cost of Mental Health to Companies

Harvard Medical School cites depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety as common mental health issues. What’s more, mental illness causes more lost workdays and impairment than arthritis, asthma, back pain, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

A 2016 PricewaterhouseCoopers report reveals that one in five American adults experiences a mental illness every year. With these conditions costing U.S. businesses more than $440 billion annually, behavioral health ranked #6 of their top-ten health issues for the year.

Recent studies put the cost of major depressive disorders at more than $210 billion a year. Nearly half of these costs are attributed to the workplace by way of absenteeism and presenteeism. The condition costs employers the equivalent of 27 lost workdays per year per employee—nine sick days and 18 reflecting lost productivity. With an estimated 6 percent of employees suffering from depression, those numbers add up. A 500-employee firm with an average salary of $50,000 per employee would lose more than $160,000 in productivity. No wonder, organizations are taking notice.



What Companies Are Doing

Companies such as Caterpillar, Chevron, Google, Microsoft, and Wells Fargo—along with municipalities, unions, and universities—have turned to outside sources to help address the impact of mental health on productivity. Local companies are also paying more attention to how their health plans can provide appropriate resources.

“We’re finding that employers are more in tune to the needs of their employees,” says Levineau. “Which is why we’re getting specific inquiries about our coverage for alcohol and substance abuse, depression and anxiety, even applied behavior analysis (ABA) for autism.”

What Kaiser Permanente is Doing

One of the things that Kaiser Permanente  is doing is offering employees and other members access to many behavioral health services through their primary care treatment team. Workers can seek help with depression, anxiety, seasonal affective disorder, and more in a familiar environment. CNN noted our involvement in such an approach.

“Large health care systems, like Group Health and Kaiser, have implemented systematic programs to screen for depression and, even more important, promote continued engagement in treatment and monitor treatment outcomes,” said Gregory Simon, MD, a psychiatrist at Group Health and chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

In addition, we offer a six-week workshop for chronic conditions, including depression. Entitled Living Well with Chronic Conditions, employees can attend the sessions in person or participate online.

Specialists are also available our Behavioral Health clinics to help address more complex conditions or situations that require their expertise, including treatment-resistant depression and bipolar disorder. Kaiser Permanente has seven clinics devoted to behavioral health services, located in Bremerton, Everett, Factoria, Olympia, Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma.


All plans offered and underwritten by Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington orKaiser Foundation Health Plan Options, Inc.

(800) 542-6312 
601 Union St., Ste. 3100 Seattle, WA 98101-1374 

linkedin   Twitter   YouTube

© Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington

All plans offered and underwritten by Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington or Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington Options, Inc.