Mental health is a top priority for employers – more so than ever as they seek to understand and address the pandemic’s impact on the wellbeing of employees and their families. For employers with global operations, navigating options for supporting workforce mental health can be especially challenging. To varying degrees around the world, stigma, fear and bias remain a significant barrier to addressing mental health needs, as does limited access to mental health care.
A recently published report by the World Health Organization (WHO) highlights three paths to transforming mental health:
So how can employers use these aspirational guidelines to strengthen their support for mental health across markets? It starts with a focused mental health strategy that addresses social and cultural diversity and seeks to ensure that all employees have services and coverage for the full spectrum of mental health needs, from prevention to treatment.
Addressing mental health needs globally
We can all recognize that mental health needs and services vary across geographies. For employers, that means balancing global standards with a practical understanding of mental health needs and mental health care capacities within local markets.
Understand employee needs. Explore needs by garnering input from employee resource groups or focus groups. What types of support do employees value – but lack? Would they be comfortable with an app, telemedicine counseling, or onsite services? Simply put, there are different needs for different populations. For example, a tech-savvy workforce adopting a hybrid work model in Singapore has different needs than an onsite workforce in rural France. Results from the 2021 Health on Demand report suggest how different values in different markets might influence an employer’s mental health strategy. For example, employees in Asia highly value innovations to help prevent new or treat existing health conditions, while Employees in continental Europe highly value on employer policies and practices that create a healthy work environment and a strong sense of community.
Mind the gap(s). Take stock of employee access to mental health services in key geographies. Review benefit coverage to discover where gaps exist. Do employees have access to medication? Are there regulatory issues or legal frameworks that may limit services for substance abuse or suicide? Are there providers who can address needs of diverse populations? Employers may find they can fill gaps through digital capabilities, onsite services, or relationships with local advocacy groups.
Tackle stigma within your own organization. Employers can make a sustainable positive impact with organization-wide initiatives aimed at promoting mental health and wellbeing. Educational campaigns and manager training can make it easier for employees to discuss their mental health concerns and help destigmatize the topic. Equally important for workforce mental health is to create a culture that is accepting and supportive of diversity, in which everyone feels safe and respected.
Cultural considerations are paramount. With any initiative, the key to adding value is to enable employees and their families to find interventions that suit them – for instance, by expanding the provider network of clinicians to include a more diverse set of practitioners. If LGBTQ+ and BIPOC individuals feel truly seen and heard by providers who are relatable, they will be more likely to seek out care when they need it. While geography can be a limitation, employers can work with mental health platforms that offer the services of providers of color based on location.
For global employers, ensuring employees in all markets have adequate and equitable support for mental health is a complex task. But with a clear goal and a consistent framework, you can “start where you are” in each geography and work for better outcomes in all your local populations.
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