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Choosing Mental Health Benefits

Modern Health in Forbes: 7 questions to ask when choosing mental health benefits

The following article is authored by Modern Health CEO Alyson Watson and published in Forbes Business Council on February 23, 2021.

While we know the pandemic is wreaking havoc on employee mental health, the silver lining is that more employers than ever are stepping up to provide mental health benefits.

Many are seeing the intense anxiety a number of people are experiencing while working (and parenting and homeschooling) during stay-at-home orders, and they've come to understand the cost of doing nothing: Employee burnout, attrition and absenteeism cost U.S. employers billions of dollars each year.

If you're a business executive or human resources leader who is looking into offering mental health support to your employees, you might be wondering, which solution is right for you?

As the CEO and founder of a mental health benefits solution supporting more than 200 employers globally, I speak with executive teams, HR professionals and benefits consultants on a daily basis as they assess available solutions. Here are the seven questions I hear most often that I encourage all leaders to ask when choosing mental health benefits for their team:

1. Can the solution effectively support your entire workforce?

Mental health benefits come in many colors, and there's a huge difference between the offerings. Some are point solutions designed to serve the clinical needs of employees with diagnosed conditions, while others support the nonclinical employee group with self-directed support, such as app-based meditations.

However, it's important to keep in mind that your entire population's mental health needs will fall along a bell curve: Some employees might need clinical (therapeutic) support, some might need short-term subclinical care (such as coaching or group sessions) and some might prefer self-guided support (such as digital courses and meditations). Decide if you want multiple point vendors or a comprehensive solution that can support your entire workforce to move along the bell curve over time.

2. Is the solution global?

Most solutions will say that they're global, but be sure to check under the hood. Some companies contract with an employee assistance program for international support, whereas some vet a network of high-quality international providers themselves. Depending on the solution you choose, you could see problems like a frustrating user experience, low provider quality and long wait times for an appointment.

3. Is the solution within your budget?

When it comes to pricing, you want a solution that will produce meaningful mental health improvements for your team while being sustainable for you in the long run.

Solutions that have a pass-through pricing model without upper limits or lack incentives for improving health outcomes can drive the price up. On the other hand, if you see a solution offered at an extremely low cost, determine if they are over-selling their true offering or over-emphasizing response time over the quality of care. Check with other HR leaders who've had experience with these solutions, and focus on tools that teach mental resilience, rather than those that only connect users to care plans featuring indefinite, high-cost psychotherapy.

4. How does the company source and support its providers?

For solutions offering access to mental health providers, understanding provider quality is paramount. Are providers treated fairly and paid well? Do they have accredited degrees, a license or certification, and practice evidence-based care? Look out for red flags such as provider exclusivity contracts, which can pose ethical and continuity-of-care problems if an employee changes jobs or the company switches benefits.

5. Is the approach backed by research?

The delivery of mental health support can run the gamut, ranging from emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence-based chat, text therapy and digital meditation apps, to more traditional methods such as one-on-one therapy. This is why it's important to discern what's included in your prospective care plan and whether it's backed by an ample body of peer-reviewed research.

For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy methods — whether delivered via coaching, therapy or digital tools — are all based on decades of peer-reviewed research, whereas some more novel therapy methods might not have yet been proven and backed by the academic research community.

6. Does the solution help deepen your company's commitment to diversity and inclusion?

Seeking mental health care can be especially hard for underserved communities, which often face disparities when it comes to stigma and access. Ask how the solution takes into account the needs of diverse populations, across race and ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation and other characteristics.

What measures are they taking to help these communities feel encouraged to seek care that is culturally responsive? Can your employees request a provider who specializes in care for a certain identity? How have they offered support to Black communities in response to recent events of racial violence?

Look at whether the company is practicing what it preaches. Every company has more work to do when it comes to inclusion and belonging, but are they taking meaningful steps toward equity or offering resources to the community that go beyond a public statement of commitment?

7. Will they be an active partner as the needs of your employees change?

This question won't be answered in a sparkly product demo, so ask around. What are other HR leaders saying about the solution they have in place? Has their partner been agile and responsive to their needs? Did they provide customer support workshops related to Covid-19 stress and racial violence? Are employees happy, or is the company looking to switch at renewal time?

It can be easy to fall prey to a stellar sales pitch that isn't backed up by the actual product or service support. Leverage your network of HR executives to find out how they arrived at their decision and how it’s being received internally.

Whatever solution you choose, keep in mind that human capital is still the No. 1 asset of every employer, and things are really hard right now for everyone. Thankfully, there are excellent solutions available to you, and you don’t have to wait for open enrollment to help take care of your employees.

If you'd like some more help navigating the quickly changing mental health ecosystem, schedule some time with an enterprise consultant today.

Alyson Watson

Alyson Watson is the CEO and founder of Modern Health.