We’re in the thick of the holiday season. That means a euphoric time of year for most of us but it can also be pretty stressful – especially if you’re hosting a big family gathering or racing to meet end of year deadlines. In fact, an Accenture poll found 66 percent of full-time employees report additional stress at work during the holidays. It also found some companies offer an extra PTO day or other stress-buster to help their workforce stay focused and productive over the winter holidays.
Of course, workplace stress is a year-round event – and often the stress carries medical consequences. A report gathered by the American Heart Association, “Mental Health: A Workforce in Crisis,” found that 8,000 employees around the world die every year from medical conditions like strokes and heart attacks caused by job stress. (That figure doesn’t include the employees who survive their work-related strokes and heart attacks.) Workplace stress can also lead to gastrointestinal disorders, high blood pressure, opioid or alcohol abuse and other issues that can impact employee and company performance.
Blend those stressors with the mental health disorders affecting almost 1 out of 5 adults and the need for intervention becomes clear. Depression reduces cognitive performance about 35 percent of the time, something that can influence professional output. Even after accounting for other health risks like obesity, employees at high risk of depression also have the highest health care costs. Yet only 57 percent of employees with moderate depression and 40 percent with severe depression receive treatment.
The answer isn’t as simple as telling employees to seek counseling. Long work days and regional shortages of behavioral health professionals can make that difficult even for people who would like treatment. That’s why many companies are trying to foster healthier and more positive workplaces by offering telepsychiatry on the job.
Bringing Behavioral Care to Cubicles
Companies have long tried to help their employees cope with personal issues and navigate challenges at work. To take pressure off HR teams and cultivate a more engaged workforce, many have created Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). But some EAP programs only refer employees to community services, where they can wait months for assistance; Starbucks found that employees were often reluctant to reach out to their EAP – which led the company to “introduce emotional first aid” through sessions with clinical psychologists.
Other organizations are also trying direct intervention by making behavioral care more accessible for their employees. Through virtual health, employees can access mental health screenings and self-assessment tools, lifestyle coaching, stress management training, therapy sessions and follow-up care after receiving inpatient treatment for addiction or mental illness.
Bringing telepsych into the workplace benefits both employees and companies in several ways:
- Employees often prefer the privacy and convenience of telepsych, which can avoid the stigma of visiting behavioral clinics in person.
- Companies located in rural areas can connect employees to psychiatric expertise that might not otherwise be available in that area.
- Telepsych conveniently brings care to the patient’s office, which can improve engagement, consistency and treatment adherence.
- Primary care providers can virtually collaborate with the patient’s therapist, integrating primary and behavioral healthcare for better outcomes.
- Employees can use their PTO for recreation, instead of using it up on mental health appointments.
- Screenings can identify at-risk employees, connect them to treatment and signal leaders to make supportive changes.
- Workers involved in an intensive project can see counselors during work hours and learn resiliency and self-stress management techniques, helping them stay focused.
- Fostering stronger mental health across the workplace can help avoid employee burnout, behavioral complaints, disengagement and the loss of top talent.
Cultivating Positive Professional Environments
It’s worth noting that mental health Direct-To-Consumer telehealth apps are popular right now precisely because they offer patients discreet and immediate assistance. However, workplaces that adopt these apps find they often fail for two reasons: patients can’t always develop an ongoing relationship with same counselor and the app providers can’t address comorbidities with the patient’s PCP. Companies achieve better results by adopting agnostic solutions that can provide consistent, evidence-based behavioral services across the care continuum.
As we approach 2020, it’s likely that our fast-paced work culture will continue to make demands on every professional. Telepsychiatry does more than help employees perform at their best; it empowers organizations to offer an exceptional workplace culture while reducing healthcare costs for everyone.