Many employees in today’s workforce aren’t receiving the behavioral health care they need to thrive. Research from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) notes inequitable access to care and the persistent stigma surrounding mental health as two key barriers.
Black, Hispanic, and rural communities are particularly vulnerable to lack of care and negative perceptions. Additionally, 80% of all employees with a mental health condition say shame and stigma cause them to avoid seeking treatment (Source: NAMI).
Employers can help by creating a “full health” culture that includes employee access to behavioral health care resources. This means working with a health plan partner to help solve for inequity, educating leadership to speak openly, and providing affordable mental health benefits — including virtual visits and on-site care.
When it comes to behavioral health, your workforce may face critical challenges that stand in the way of getting the care they need. Two of those formidable roadblocks are stigma and inequities in behavioral healthcare. Learn how to address these barriers full on to better support the well-being of your workforce.
While the pandemic has inflicted new and worsened existing behavioral health challengeson today’s workforce, it has also opened more conversation around behavioral health in theworkplace. There is growing awareness among employers that each employee experiences healthcare differently—largely based on socioeconomic, demographic and geographic determinants of health. And when it comes to behavioral health specifically, employees’willingness to ask for mental health support if they need it—as well as their ability to access behavioral care—often varies based on social determinants of health. Forward thinking employers also recognize that addressing stigma and tackling inequities represents a valuable opportunity to build inroads toward full-health workplace cultures that are good for their employees and ultimately good for their business.
Black adults who need mental healthcare receive it.1
Health equity is the absence of unfair and avoidable differences in health among groups of people due to social factors.2 Looking at behavioral health in particular, inequities exist that often prevent oppressed and marginalized populations from receiving the care they need. Inequities, such as limited access to health, educational, social and financial resources, along with provider bias and inequality of care are common barriers to treating mental health in minority communities. In fact, according to NAMI, only one in three Black adults who need mental healthcare receive it.3 We cannot hope to cover the breadth of behavioral healthcare inequities that exist in a single white paper, but highlighting a few critical ones offers a place to start.
Since people of color are more likely to have lower socioeconomic status, factors like a lack of or insufficient insurance, costly copays and limited proximity to providers may prevent them from seeking care in the first place. However, even when Blacks and Hispanics do seek treatment, regardless of their socioeconomic status, they are often misdiagnosed or receive inadequate care by providers as a result of discrimination and biases. In addition, a lack of cultural understanding by providers and language barriers may also contribute to misdiagnoses and other challenges. All of this, as well as the limited availability of behavioral health providers of color, can result in distrust of the healthcare system and a reluctance to engage in care.4
Eighty percent of all rural counties do not have a single psychiatrist.5 Employees who live in “behavioral care deserts”—or who are uncomfortable walking into a therapist’s office—can benefit from virtual care options. However, spotty high-speed internet access across rural areas makes digital care a possibility for some—but not others.
Research also shows that behavioral health conditions may be under-diagnosed among racial and ethnic minorities. For example, Millennials from majority Black and Hispanic communities have lower diagnosis rates of major depression, 31 percent and 55 percent lower respectively when compared to Millennials in majority white communities. These lower diagnoses are likely due to not only difficulties accessing quality care, but also stigma.6
Studies have shown that negative views of individuals with mental health conditions are particularly strong in Black and Hispanic communities, so talking about these challenges can be difficult for people of color due to fears of being shamed or perceived differently.7 This can even prevent them from seeking the help they need within the workplace. But, the impact of stigma’s mighty grip goes beyond just employees of color, it affects the broader workforce as well.
Despite signs of progress, many employees still feel uncomfortable speaking up about burnout, anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions. In fact, 8 of 10 employees with a mental health condition say shame and stigma cause them not to seek treatment.8 This can lead to conditions worsening over time, making them even more difficult (and costly) to treat.
There are steps you can take to help your employees feel more comfortable talking about their mental health and seeking support, as well as to improve the accessibility of behavioral health resources for all.
1, 3, 4, 7 “Identity and Cultural Dimensions: Black/African American,” National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 2021; “Identity and Cultural Dimensions: Hispanic/Latinx,” National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 2021.
2 “Health Equity,” Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization, accessed June 1, 2021.
5 New American Economy, “New Study Shows 60 Percent of U.S. Counties Without a Single Psychiatrist,” Oct. 23, 2017.
6 Blue Cross Blue Shield, The Health of America Report®, Millennial Health: Trends in Behavioral Health Conditions, October 2020.
8 National Alliance on Mental Illness, “NAMI Launches Stigmafree Company Partnership,” July 7, 2016.
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Originally Posted: on BCBS Smarter Better Health Care and is used with permission.
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