Can you imagine US business ignoring a problem that annually costs them $105 Billion a year? Well that’s just what they do when they overlook mental illness as a serious workplace liability and threat to profitability.

Over the past several years, the EEOC has litigated increasing numbers of related claims under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Often, these are from individuals asking for reasonable accommodations for mental illness. Many cases find in favor of the claimant for such things as flexible work schedules or a change in work hours. As awareness is raised about mental illness, requests and claims could increase.

Whether due to stigma or a company wanting to stay out of “personal business,” too many organizations have their head in the sand about this issue. And that is a serious mistake.

More companies realize effectiveness of mental illness treatment

Unfortunately just as treatments are proving more effective, many health insurers are cutting back on mental health benefits. Lower cost plan options may totally eliminate or seriously limit access and care for mental illness. Yet depression is one of the most treatable diseases. There is a nearly 85% recovery rate when the individual is diagnosed and referred to the appropriate professional.

Consequently, more companies are openly addressing this issue, as reported in USA Today

A number of employers are enhancing mental health coverage or programs. The number of firms with employee-assistance programs, which often provide on-call counselors and referrals, has climbed from 68% in 2001 to 71% this year, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Seven in 10 offer mental health insurance. Eighteen percent have grief-recovery programs, up from 12% in 2002.
General Motors’ program provides U.S. employees with unlimited access to telephone counseling with a trained mental health professional and up to three face-to-face counseling sessions at no charge. GM also helps managers with what to do if an employee has personal issues.

Wellness initiatives abound this time of year. Organizations promote healthy eating and offer screening for everything from high blood pressure and cholesterol to osteoporosis in ubiquitous benefits fairs. But when was the last time you saw a company offer depression screening or promotions for improving mental health?
Employers need to recognize the great value of promoting wellness on all levels, physical and emotional. Look to the industry leaders and match their efforts as you plan your benefit package this year.


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