Virtual Mental Health Care Improves Access to Employee Benefits

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The state of Americans’ mental health remains a newsworthy topic. The lingering impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic are still with us. Individuals of all ages continue to grapple with the uncertainty of the modern world.

The rapid technological innovation that occurred during the pandemic created new solutions for dealing with our concerns. Virtual health care emerged and was quickly normalized as a way to see providers without risking illness. 

Today, depression and anxiety are the top two diagnoses in people seeking care, either in person or virtually. “Based on medical claims data, mental health visits increased substantially during the pandemic. We’ve still not returned to baseline,” says Lisa Marsh, RN, MS, ATC, director of clinical strategy consulting and analytics for Highmark.

Depression and anxiety in the workplace

Depression and anxiety get exacerbated by stress at work and at home. Symptoms manifest in the workplace as tiredness, lack of concentration, and overly emotional reactions. Tardiness and absenteeism can be signs of an even deeper problem. All of that adds up to lost productivity for employers.

The 2024 Workplace Mental Health Poll from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) measured mental wellness among full-time workers. The poll found that:

  • 62% are uncomfortable talking about their mental health.
  • 37% found it hard to do their job due to overwhelming stress.
  • 36% felt that their mental health suffered due to work demands.
  • 33% noticed a decline in productivity.
  • 25% are unsure of their mental health care benefits.
  • 20% say it’s hard to find affordable, accessible mental health care.

Marsh says that individuals typically experience depression and/or anxiety symptoms for 7+ years before seeking help. “We need to meet people where they are. Whether they just started having symptoms or have been dealing with them for years,” she says.

Expanded mental well-being resources for employers

Highmark has “doubled down on member support” with Mental Well-Being, a new solution powered by Spring Health. This solution directs members and their families to the right resources at the right time.

Resources include an expanded network of 6,000 newly added psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, counselors, social workers, and care navigators. Members can choose from in-person or virtual appointments. Appointments occur within 3 — 5  days of scheduling.

Mental Well-Being also includes digital self-help tools and a 24/7 crisis line for mental health emergencies. Members who need help with additional concerns such as food insecurity or unsafe housing can get connected to community agencies.

Digital solution offers a greater choice of providers

The member experience begins with an online mental health and needs assessment via the member portal. Evidence-based predictive analytics serve up resources that best match the member’s answers to the assessment questions. Once recommended for a provider visit, the member can choose from a network of providers that fit their exact needs. 

“Members can choose a male or female provider for in-person or virtual visits,” explains Marsh. “They can choose someone who has experience with families, the LGBTQ+ community, or cancer patients, for example. Or maybe they prefer a faith-based provider. Our network gives members very granular choices.”

Breaking down barriers to care

Employers that offer mental health care benefits are already making strides toward breaking down barriers. The next step is to reinforce the availability of these benefits by talking openly about employee mental health.

“You can create a culture of inclusivity by offering comprehensive resources,” offers Marsh. “Every employee has different mental health needs. Some might respond well to digital tools, whereas others want hands-on help.” 

Virtual therapy visits are a popular choice. Remote and hybrid employees can schedule appointments for when they have privacy at home or elsewhere. On-site employees should have a dedicated private space for virtual visits, conducted during their breaks or off hours. 

Flexibility is especially important for employees who need a safe space away from home. Generational and familial stigmas surrounding mental health remain one of the biggest barriers to seeking care.  

Employee benefits for whole-person health

“Mental Well-Being powered by Spring Health helps fulfill our vision of Living Health,” says Marsh. She’s talking about Highmark’s approach to physical, mental, and social health.

Living Health recognizes that these three pillars work together to create a fulfilling life. The goal is to deliver a simpler, more personalized, and proactive experience that:

  • Improves accessibility to quality care
  • Lowers health care costs
  • Empowers everyday health
  • Promotes better member engagement

“All of our member services work together for integrated care that serves the whole person,” concludes Marsh. “The more we can support members in the digital space, the more accessible care becomes.”

Check out Highmark’s mental health resource page to learn more about mental health services, resources, and information.

All references to “Highmark” in this communication are references to Highmark, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, and/or to one or more of its affiliated Blue companies. 

National Alliance on Mental Illness. The 2024 NAMI Workplace Mental Health Poll.

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