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EAP’s remain best option for mental health in the workplace

March 21st, 2017


EAP’s remain best option for mental health in the workplace. Once considered to be the silent tsunami of the workplace, the issue of employee mental health is increasingly becoming a topic of conversation in C-suites around the country — and rightfully so.

When it comes to the impact of mental health on the workplace, there are a few unavoidable truths that organizational leaders simply cannot deny.

Fact: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 26.2 percent of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental illness such as anxiety or depression every year — a figure that doesn’t include lower-acuity issues like relationship problems or job stress. Unfortunately, despite the prevalence of mental health among Americans, more than half (56 percent) of people with a mental health concern don’t receive treatment, according to Mental Health America’s “State of Mental Health in America 2017.”

EAP's remain best option for mental health in the workplace

Fact: The economic burden of behavioral health issues in the workplace is hefty. The CDC reports that the annual direct and indirect costs of treating mental health disorders is $317.5 billion — even higher than the $310 billion OSHA attributes to the annual cost of workplace injuries. Mental illness conditions cause more days of work loss and work impairment than any other chronic health condition, including arthritis, asthma, back pain, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Fact: “Mental Health and Substance Abuse: 2016 Survey” results from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans show 94 percent of organizations say their workforces are stressed, and 67 percent believe substance abuse challenges are greater now than five years ago.

Fact: Depression alone causes an estimated 200 million lost workdays each year and costs employers up to $44 billion annually. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by 2020, depression alone will cause more days of work loss and work impairment than any other illness

Fact: The American Institute of Stress estimates that one million workers miss work each day because of stress, costing companies roughly $602 per employee per year. Workplace stress alone contributes between $125 billion and $190 billion to health care costs annually, or 5 percent to 8 percent of national spending on health care, according to a January 2015 paper by researchers at Harvard Business School in Boston, and the Stanford Graduate School of Business in California. Statistics such as these have led to an awakening at the executive level. With a deeper understanding of the negative impact that mental health concerns have on their company’s bottom line, an increasing number of employers are focusing on mental health as a critical component of their population health management strategy.

Here’s another fact:

An employee assistance program (EAP’s) with the proper construct and focus is still the most effective tool to impact the emotional well being and productivity of employees while, at the same time, lowering health care costs.

Recent research by CuraLinc Healthcare shows certain EAP models can facilitate meaningful and lasting behavior change that leads to decreased absenteeism, increased productivity, and improved health outcomes for employees who present with depression and alcohol abuse.

An analysis of 3,497 EAP cases in 2016, first during the initial clinical assessment and again after treatment was completed, revealed the following health and productivity-related outcomes:

  • EAP’s provide support, care and advocacy for employees suffering from depression. 85.7 percent of EAP participants who presented with severe or moderately severe depression migrated into minimal, mild or moderate categories; and 90.1 percent of participants with depression showed significant (55.7 percent) or moderate (34.4 percent) improvement after using the EAP.
  • EAP’s have a positive and measurable impact on employee productivity. The average “presenteeism” index score increased from 19.9 (moderate productivity) to 24.5 (high productivity). In addition, 80.8 percent of EAP participants reported high productivity after utilizing the EAP, compared to just 52.2 percent prior to using the program.
  • EAP’s reduce unscheduled employee absences. The average time away from work that was caused by the employee’s mental or emotional health concern(s) decreased by 6.8 hours after using the EAP.


EAP’s help employees address alcohol abuse.

The average alcohol use index score for EAP participants who presented with alcohol use or abuse improved from 6.5 to 3.9 — a significant reduction in the use and abuse of alcohol. Furthermore, 36.6 percent of participants reported misusing alcohol (an index of 8 or higher) during the initial clinical assessment, compared to just 7.3 percent after EAP treatment was completed. Let’s go back to a statistic I referenced earlier — more than half of adults with mental health concerns don’t seek treatment.

Whether the origin of this problem is access-based or stigma-based, most of today’s EAPs include service components and integration tactics that can be effective at extending the footprint of mental health resources and appealing to a portion of an employee population who may not have traditionally sought resources to address a mental or emotional health concern.

For instance, teletherapy or distance counseling (video, telephonic and chat-based) is appealing to individuals in rural areas, those with mobility problems, and people who simply don’t have the time to visit a therapist in person.

Computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (cCBT)

Which increases accessibility to therapy through digital platforms, has been around for years, but is going through a technology-fueled renaissance as employers are looking for new ways to engage employees with mental health resources.

Many wellness and chronic care management programs allow EAP providers to train their health educators and nurses to refer coaching participants to the EAP if they detect a mental health concern — and most EAPs are adept at channeling EAP participants with comorbid physical health conditions to the proper care resource.

Each of these programs and concepts drives incremental engagement with the EAP, which is a great first step to overcoming the aforementioned access and stigma-related concerns.

There’s no denying that employee mental health has become increasingly costly in terms of lost productivity, higher absenteeism, lower employee engagement, and increased health care and disability costs. EAPs that can produce positive clinical and productivity-related outcomes — in addition to embedding new or recalibrated offerings that extend the reach of the program — are ideally suited to fill the gap of mental health that exists within most employers’ population health management strategies.


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