Behavioral health: Why it matters to Wisconsin employers

The human mind still holds many mysteries. Yet, as research reveals more about how our brains work, experts are discovering important connections between mental health and physical health as well as an improved understanding of the way people behave as students and employees.

The term “behavioral health” refers to how behavior impacts physical and mental wellness. Psychology Today makes the distinction that behavioral health is more inclusive than mental health, and promotes both prevention and intervention. It also tends to deal with specific issues like addiction, anxiety and depression.

“Behavior is an aspect of identity that can be changed,” writes Psychology Today contributor and mental health specialist Elana Premack Sandler. “So, ‘behavioral health’ might be a more hopeful concept for those who experience mental illness or addiction and who may have felt that these diseases were permanent parts of their lives.”

The U.S. government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) refers to behavioral health as “mental/emotional well-being and/or actions that affect wellness.” SAMHSA says behavioral health problems include:

· Substance abuse

· Serious psychological distress (SPD)

· Suicide risk

· Mental disorders

Behavioral health statistics in Wisconsin and beyond

In order to understand the impact behavioral health can have on Wisconsin workplaces, we can examine the effect it has on overall health and quality of life. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) conducted a survey exploring the link between mental and physical health.

Among the key findings were results indicating Wisconsin adults suffering from serious psychological distress or depression were at least twice as likely to be smokers and were less physically active than those without such mental health issues. Wisconsin adults with serious psychological distress were three to five times more likely to have chronic diseases like asthma and cardiovascular problems. This suggests that behavioral health issues can affect an employer’s healthcare costs.

When it comes to workplace performance, the DHS study found Wisconsin adults with serious psychological distress or depression were three to six times more likely to have “functional limitations.” That includes being unable to work productively or to show up to work at all. Respondents with serious psychological distress averaged nine days a month that their condition interfered with activities such as their jobs. Compare that to less than one day a month on average for those without serious psychological distress.

The bigger picture backs up findings from the Wisconsin DHS survey. For example, in-depth research from the American Psychological Association estimates depression alone cost U.S. employers $210 billion in 2010, representing a 21.5 percent increase from 2005. The study also found the average worker with major depression lost productivity equal to 32 workdays a year. That’s due to so-called presenteeism, which means the employee is at work but fails to complete responsibilities.

People with mental health issues such as depression may be more likely to struggle with substance abuse, which is another behavioral health-related issue. That includes the ongoing opioid abuse epidemic, a major concern for Wisconsin businesses and families alike. You can read more about that in a story from our sponsor, Security Health Plan.

What can Wisconsin employers do?

In an article for the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), Dori Meinert suggests that human resources departments should introduce initiatives within their companies that address behavioral health.

“A growing number of HR professionals recognize that early detection and treatment of mental illness often can prevent a crisis and reduce employers’ healthcare costs down the road,” Meinert writes. “They are developing programs and plans to provide more support for their employees with psychiatric disorders — similar to the help they provide those with physical injuries or ailments.”

HR-Playbook has developed an infographic on workplace stress, which may help you identify individuals who need help such as counseling or stress management. The graphic illustrates some of the symptoms of poor behavioral health in the workplace.

Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, Douglas Jacobs, calls clinical depression a “silent epidemic that is eating away at the U.S. economy.” In an article for Harvard Business Review, he suggests employers recommend workers take special screenings, which may identify behavioral health issues before they become a bigger problem.

“Employers can look out for both their employees’ short and long-term mental health by encouraging participation in free and anonymous online screenings,” he says. “By encouraging employees to take free, anonymous screenings, managers will also be sending an important signal that there’s no stigma to depression.”

Jacobs is the founder and medical director of Screening for Mental Health, Inc., which offers online mental health evaluations for employers.

Behavioral health care and insurance benefits

The Affordable Care Act brought with it an expansion of mental health and substance abuse disorder coverage. Current law requires most health insurance plans provide coverage for things such as dug and alcohol rehabilitation or addiction therapy meant to assist people with behavioral health challenges. Protections for this coverage are part of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA).

Whether any changes in healthcare legislation will impact the type of health insurance coverage required for addressing behavioral health is still unknown. Regardless, it’s clear that investing in the mental health of employees is wise.

HR-Playbook’s sponsor, Security Health Plan, offers Wisconsin employers health insurance plans with benefits for employees that include coverage of various mental health and substance abuse services. Members can seek care from any affiliated provider and coverage includes inpatient, transitional and outpatient services.

If you have questions about behavioral health benefits or anything regarding employer-provided health coverage in Wisconsin, call Security Health Plan at 1–800–622–7790 to find out more.

Addressing behavioral health early

Behavioral health is something that should be considered long before people enter the workforce.

Healthy minds are an important contributor to healthy lives. When we are vigilant about the behavioral health of children in Wisconsin communities, we make the cities and towns we call home stronger, safer places for us all.

That’s why Security Health Plan provided 22 Wisconsin school districts in 14 counties with grants totaling $100,000. The funding was used to implement the Behavioral, Emotional and Social Traits (b.e.s.t.) universal screening during the 2016–2017 school year. Security Health Plan also supported efforts to make sure elementary teachers were trained to use the tool. The evaluation helps educators identify risk factors and come up with data-based solutions for young students.

“We know that healthy minds and behaviors can open up opportunities for children to succeed academically, and we want every student to have the best possible chance to learn,” said Jay Shrader, Vice President of Community Health & Wellness, Marshfield Clinic Health System.

Read more about this initiative when you visit the Security Health Plan blog.