VOLUME 40, ISSUE 3
Table of Contents
Virtual Care Makes Mental Health More Accessible for Employees
It has been said, in nearly every way possible, that 2020 was a brutally tough year. While the year definitely presented many challenges, there were also many learning opportunities.
One area that emerged was the increased acceptance and use of telemedicine. Prior to COVID-19, many employers offered telemedicine to employees as part of their benefits plan. However, in the wake of the pandemic, nearly half of all employers have started expanding their health-care benefits, especially in this area. In response, telemedicine has not only grown in volume, but it has also grown in scope — particularly in the area of mental health.
Over and above the convenience and safety that telemedicine helped provide worldwide during the last year, an unexpected increase for mental health support also arose. Mental health in the United States has always come with unique challenges and stigmas — many don’t know how to ask for help; others don’t want family members, friends and co-workers to view them as weak, unconsciously yielding to the misguided cultural idea that asking for help lacks strength. The good news is that telemedicine appears to be chipping away at these roadblocks by offering accessibility and connectivity while also slowly removing the stigma associated with reaching out for support.
In a 2016 study published by The Lancet Psychiatry, it was reported that “For the U.S., every $1 invested in expanded treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of $4 in better health and enhanced labor participation and productivity.” Further, improved mental health within society offers more than just economic rewards and improved personal well-being: a 2011 study conducted over the span of 19 countries produced data that revealed that mental illness increased the likelihood of divorce by up to 80%.
AN EXPONENTIAL NEED
Since the pandemic, the number of people seeking assistance with depression has skyrocketed. Whether struggling to cope with the stress of the pandemic in general, dealing with illness within one’s familial and friend circle, adjusting to a new work-home balance, or pushing oneself to quickly learn new ways to accomplish one’s workload, across the board, individuals have indicated that they feel burnt out, especially when it comes to work. Indeed, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy reported that COVID-19 has tripled the rate of depression in U.S. adults throughout all demographic groups. As unfortunate as that is, the spotlight and a more welcoming perspective on mental health care may prove to provide society with a better path in the future.
“From the ashes of a pandemic and economic crisis may rise a mental health movement that could draw the focus of businesses looking to improve productivity. They will realize a workforce with improved mental health can lead to increased productivity, a better company culture and progress at every level.”
According the FAIR Health’s recent white paper, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Pediatric Mental Health,” for the age group 13-18 in April 2020, “claim lines for generalized anxiety disorder increased 93.6 percent as a percentage of all medical claim lines over April 2019, while major depressive disorder claim lines increased 83.9 percent and adjustment disorder claim lines 89.7 percent.” Furthermore, as it regards overdoses for the 13-18 age group, the FAIR Health’s white paper finds that “there was an increase of 94.91 percent as a percentage of all medical claim lines in March 2020 and 119.31 percent in April 2020 over the same months the year before. Claim lines for substance use disorders also increased as a percentage of all medical claim lines in March (64.64 percent) and April (62.69 percent) 2020 as compared to their corresponding months in 2019.”
Teladoc’s October 2020 study release noted that mental health virtual care visits went up 79% for men and 75% for women since January of that year. This rise in virtual care usage goes far beyond convenience, safety and affordable access. This confidential and accessible service provides tools and support previously inaccessible and shunned. While virtual care will never replace the need for in-person care, it can act as a life preserver for those in need and a springboard to more in-depth services for those who might never have reached out if it were not for the instant and convenient access of telemedicine.
A POSITIVE FORCE
The ups and downs of 2020 certainly provided an environment in which the entire population collectively felt stuck, vulnerable, isolated and a level of stress in a way many of us have never experienced. And maybe it is that collective experience that has allowed us as a society to break through the barrier of accepting the positives of mental health support. It seems, at the very least, the notion of seeking help for mental health as a weakness is slowly and steadily fading.
If society continues to take a positive path of changing the mindset on mental health care, it could have wide sweeping effects. The future is bright for the telemedicine segment — and individuals, businesses and society as a whole will be better off for it. From the ashes of a pandemic and economic crisis may rise a mental health movement that could draw the focus of businesses looking to improve productivity. They will realize a workforce with improved mental health can lead to increased productivity, a better company culture and progress at every level.
In short, the Greek philosopher Thales’s view on health — “A sound mind in a sound body” — held true in 2020, which has shown businesses firsthand that a workforce of sound minds helps produce a business with a sound body. And, at the end of the day, no matter how you look at it, a more accepting outlook on mental health care is definitely a good thing.
For the last 10 years, Carlson’s company, Benefit Intelligence, has worked with GLJ Benefit Consultants to help provide ALA member firms with access to valuable benefits, including Teladoc’s no-copay telemedicine program and SupportLinc’s employee assistance program.
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