Lost Opportunities: Gaps in Employer Support for Substance Use Disorders - Part 4

In our posts over the past three weeks, we have described the difficult journey of one employee who sought help for an alcohol use disorder, and identified some common gaps in programming that make successful treatment harder to achieve. In this final post, we retell the story to give this employee the ideal member experience. You’ll see how it helped avoid higher levels of care, high treatment costs, and a lengthy leave of absence – while safeguarding the well-being of a valued employee.

In early 2020, Randell, a logistics manager in a manufacturing company, experienced a major life change when the pandemic hit and he could no longer go to his worksite. Randell enjoyed interacting with coworkers and found remote work difficult and unrewarding. With his wife also working from home and their children in online learning, he struggled to maintain focus and productivity amid all the distractions. In addition, he was in a high-risk category and felt very anxious about contracting COVID-19. As the months dragged on, Randell began using alcohol to cope with his stress. He had never been a heavy drinker before, but eventually he was drinking during work hours as well on the weekends. This worried him and upset his wife, but he found he wasn’t able to stop on his own.

Randell was aware that his employer offered supports specifically for substance use. He’d seen posters in break rooms directing workers to a company microsite where they could learn about resources for mental health and substance use disorders, and he also recalled that a coworker he was friendly with had told him she had used the company EAP and found it helpful. Randell emailed his supervisor, Jenny, asking for the EAP information. Having recently participated in a manager training around behavioral health, Jenny responded quickly with a phone call. They talked about what he was experiencing and she shared a number of resources with him, including the contact information for the EAP.

That night, Randell went to the EAP’s website, where it was easy for him to find and complete an online assessment. The results surprised him. He had assumed that his drinking was the problem he needed to address, and while that was true, he also learned that some of his recent moods, thoughts and behaviors were potentially linked to depression. The assessment indicated that counseling would be an appropriate step, and identified other tools and resources for dealing with stress and depression. Finding a counselor couldn’t have been easier, as the site directed him to a list of providers with relevant training and experience. He read through a few provider biographies and scanned photos to find someone he thought he would feel comfortable with. He matched with a male therapist who specialized in working with patients with both substance use and mental health concerns, and scheduled a virtual appointment within the week.

Taking the session from home was convenient and comfortable. Randell video-chatted with his therapist and immediately felt connected and supported. His therapist recommended they meet once a week and that Randell try some self-guided activities and meditations available through the EAP’s app.  Over the next few weeks, Randell found himself more often turning to one of these activities than to alcohol when he felt overwhelmed or stressed. Knowing that he would soon be checking in with his therapist helped when he felt the urge to drink. He felt encouraged that he was on the right track.

About a month after their initial conversation, Jenny set up time to connect with Randell one-on-one specifically to ask how he was doing. Randell shared that he was in counseling and felt it was very helpful. Jenny mentioned that a group was being formed at work to talk about strategies for coping with stress. It would meet virtually and be led by a licensed therapist. Jenny emphasized that Randell was not alone in having trouble coping, and that one goal of the group was to destigmatize mental health concerns. Randell appreciated being able to have this type of conversation with his supervisor. He smiled and said, “I’m in.”

Randell’s journey takes a much different course in this alternate – but achievable -- reality. The three key differences are a microsite that makes it easy to access and use a number of resources related to mental health and substance abuse; an EAP that provides a highly member-centric experience; and an underlying corporate culture in which mental health concerns are openly acknowledged and managers are trained to help. In this version of the story, the combination of a culture of caring and a pathway to getting the right care at the right time spared Randell the lengthy, costly, and frustrating process that can result when program gaps exist – and strengthened his bond with his employer.

Sandra Kuhn
by Sandra Kuhn

Partner, Total Health Management, Mercer

Courtney Blondino
by Courtney Blondino

Senior Associate, Total Health Management, Mercer

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