Guest blog by Michael Cantor, M.D., J.D., Chief Medical Officer at Ascellus
The behavioral health (BH) and wellness of their employees are always important for employers, and the COVID pandemic has vastly increased this concern. Employees are desperate for resources to address their needs for diagnosis and treatment of work-related anxiety, depression and substance use disorders. More than 4 million Americans left their jobs since April of 2020, many due to pandemic-induced BH issues. Dubbed “The Great Resignation,” this shift in the workforce demonstrates the need for employers to take an active role in safeguarding their employees’ mental health.
Consider the pressures and challenges essential workers face. They are at increased risk of contracting COVID, some face angry customers who disagree with mask-wearing or are generally fed up with COVID-related disruptions, and as the omicron variant sweeps across the country, many are working harder than ever due to staff being unable to work as they recover from COVID infections. Although many industries are impacted, healthcare faces the impact of The Great Resignation multiplied by the challenges of sometimes-violent patients and greater workloads due to staffing shortages. The Atlantic reports that up to 20% of the healthcare workforce has resigned since the start of the pandemic, and burnout, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and guilt are treatable issues exacerbating an already difficult situation. How can we get these workers back to work, and help those who remain to stay at work?
And COVID isn’t the only challenge facing workers and their employers. Employees rehabilitating from a physical workplace injury may face significant behavioral health issues: insecurity regarding their recovery, injury-induced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), financial pressures, and a negative mindset, all of which can significantly prolong healing. If left untreated, these mental issues can drastically increase claim costs, as patients with mental health diagnoses incur triple the average physical health care costs, which in the U.S., account for nearly $200 billion annually.
The good news is that there are effective treatments for workplace-related behavioral health diagnoses. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an example of an underused, proven treatment for work-related behavioral health issues. CBT works to “rewire” the brain, refocus thought processes, interrupt trauma-induced stress and substance abuse and give people the tools they need to get healthy and stay that way.
The pandemic provides employers an opportunity and incentive to coordinate behavioral health resources, such as CBT, with proactive intervention and prevention. Employers and providers must recognize the mind-brain connection and the reality of the interrelatedness of physical and psychological health and the need for comprehensive solutions. Jessica Pryce-Jones, author of Happiness at Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success, notes that workers spend a lifetime average of 90,000 hours at work. With so much time spent on the job, it is in employers’ best interest to design a workplace that encourages self-care wellness programs, especially as workers vote with their feet and choose employers who provide optimal workplaces.
There is coverage now for behavioral health services in the workplace, which should increase access to treatment. Many workers’ compensation insurance companies and employers now recommend including CBT in comprehensive treatment plans. One study found employees who missed work due to common mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, were able to return to work an average of 65 days earlier after undergoing work-focused CBT. This creates a win-win for workers and employers, as expedited return-to-work times ease employee stress and lessen workers’ compensation costs.
The COVID pandemic has uncovered and exacerbated many existing challenges for workers and employers, and although this has led to some improvements in providing behavioral health treatment to injured workers, there is still much more to do. Employers need to expand workers’ access to behavioral health resources as part of a holistic health management plan.
Ascellus is the leading behavioral health platform focused on helping injured workers restore their physical and mental wellbeing. By bringing people and technology together, Ascellus delivers customized treatment options through a national network of 1,500 licensed clinicians, reducing costs for workers’ compensation claims and empowering injured workers to return to work sooner.