Advancing Mental Health: Is Our Industry Up for the Challenge?

World Mental Health day is the perfect time to reflect on the events of the last 18 months. Personally, I’ve come to realize how proud I am of the critical role the employee benefits industry has played in facilitating much needed and valued mental health supports for workforces and their families. At the same time, I’m still disappointed by how unequally distributed these resources are; and so recognize that we must work and collaborate together as an industry to bring more positive change.

Without doubt, the pandemic has resulted in more people needing and accepting mental health support than ever before. However the cost of care remains a significant barrier. It is evident that affordability, access and quality are the key pillars of mental health support, and so I am certain that as an industry we can do more. According to our 2021 Mercer Marsh Benefits Health on Demand research, 51% of employees across multiple sectors and countries say insurance coverage or programs that reduce the cost of mental health treatment would be “highly valuable” or “extremely valuable”. Similar numbers see great value in targeted services for children, teens and parents to assist with mental health issues, support for resilience & mindfulness and support to prevent & treat substance abuse.

As time goes on, I hope that the prevalence and acceptance of these supports will increase – by employers, employees and insurers alike. There are lots of hurdles and barriers to overcome – including short term costs, cultural acceptance and integration of fragmented programs. However, it is well worth the challenge. A diverse set of supports to enable emotional well-being helps manage a number of people risks, including employee exhaustion, rising health costs and employee turnover. The Health on Demand research found that 42% of employees with access to mental health benefits are less likely to leave their employer, compared to only 27% without it. Therefore, confirming the fact that mental wellbeing support, coupled with a healthy culture, is foundational to a talent engagement strategy and the advancement of healthy societies.

In addition, accessing affordable prevention and treatment is key in addressing gaps among the global workforce. Only 24% of employees in lower income categories reported access to employer-facilitated mental health counseling services compared to the 34% of their higher earning colleagues. Likewise, in our 2020 Mercer Marsh Benefits Health Trends survey we noted that outside the US one in three insurers do not provide plans that include coverage for mental health and two thirds of insurers do not currently provide digital mental health solutions. Once again highlighting the need for a more holistic approach to mental health supports.

Finally, we must remember that representation matters. Very often Black Americans and ethnic minorities are overlooked and misrepresented when it comes to mental health care. As we advance quality access to mental health resources that are inclusive, we must acknowledge inequities within service care. The American Psychological Association reports that 86% of psychologists in the U.S. workforce were White (compared to 62% of the population), 5% were Asian, 5% were Hispanic, 4% were Black/African-American and only 1% were Multiracial or belonging to other racial/ethnic groups. We must be allies to those involved in addressing such an imbalance and work with insurers to expand their provider networks to advance representation.

What it means to be emotionally healthy takes on a unique definition for each of us but we should all have the same opportunities to thrive. This World Mental Health day I urge all of us in the health & employee benefits industry to not only reflect upon our own well-being but also think about what we can do for others with the benefit and communication levers we have at our disposal.

Hervé Balzano
by Hervé Balzano

President, Health and Mercer Marsh Benefits International Leader

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