Removing Stigma is Key to True Mental Health Parity

Would you feel as comfortable using company sick time to visit a psychologist for depression as you would to see an allergist for hay fever? My guess is no.

Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma attached to mental illness, and employees fear an impact to their career should their employers or co-workers learn they have a mental health issue. Not so long ago in the early 2000’s when I worked in a psychiatry outpatient clinic, I remember patients using fake names and forgoing their insurance just so their employers wouldn’t find out.

The stigma is bad for both employees and employers. According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, major depressive disorder alone cost companies $78 billion in lost productivity in 2010. This was due not to employee absence, but rather to employees coming to work while struggling with the illness.

Health plans are required, under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, to cover mental health treatment on par with medical treatment. But just because an employer offers the coverage, doesn’t mean their employees will use it.

As you evaluate your company’s health plan for compliance with MHPAEA, it’s a good time to reevaluate internal policies that support the mental health of employees as well. Some companies, as featured in a recent Wall Street Journal online article (please note, a subscription is required for access), are already taking steps to openly foster a culture of mental wellness.

I encourage employers to find ways to remove the stigma (while of course protecting employee privacy). And I encourage employees to use your sick time or PTO, or even ask for a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), if it will help you care for your mental health.

Doing so can improve employee productivity and retention and, in the long run, could even save lives.

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