Beyond Disease: Innovations in “Behavioral Health”

Whether it’s mild case of the Monday morning blues or full-blown PTSD, most people experience anxiety in their lives. When it interferes with how we go about our daily routines, though, things can get worrisome. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five people in the U.S. have a diagnosable mental illness, while the World Economic Forum pegs the cost of mental illness globally at $2.5 trillion in lost productivity and medical expenses.

Lori Block
“Traditional wellness programs fall short if they fail to address behavioral health issues – that connection between how we act and the wellbeing of body, mind and spirit.” Lori Block, Principal & West Region Client Technology Leader, Engagement Practice

This concerns employers, of course, if for no other reason than the costs they incur. Most, however, are generally looking to help their workers through these conditions – hence the role of wellness and Employee Assistance programs. But EAPs have been largely underutilized, mainly because of the stigma attached to mental ill health and the worry by employees about their jobs.

Traditional wellness programs fall short if they fail to address behavioral health issues – that connection between how we act and the wellbeing of body, mind and spirit. Such issues manifest themselves along a spectrum: from drinking and eating disorders to managing serious chronic conditions. When coupled with other chronic diseases, behavioral health-related conditions increase healthcare expenditures on average by $500 a month for each affected member.

The best foundation for tackling behavioral health problems is through a total wellbeing program – one that goes beyond the traditional wellness program to include ‘purpose’ or career, financial, social, behavioral, , and even spiritual considerations. Are there any innovations along these lines? We looked at several new or recent developments:

  • Clinicians. Primary care physicians and clinicians are increasingly integrating medical care and behavioral health service offerings.
  • Telehealth. Provided as a free-standing offering or as part of an integrated delivery network, telehealth for behavioral health services has become an accepted and useful alternative to in-person visits.
  • Referrals. Other vendors have begun to incorporate behavioral health resources as a distinct focus, providing both content and referrals to appropriate resources.
  • Smartphone applications. There are more than 900 such offerings for stress management alone identified in a recent analysis. Other smartphone apps provide mental health self-help tools, including an array of self-assessments, self-guided cognitive therapy tools, and mood tracking functions to support individuals interested in self-care.
  • Predictive analytics. Aggregating data from several sources – particularly from non-traditional sources such as cell phone utilization – has created new focus areas for behavioral health analysis.
  • Personalization. Personalized messaging encouraging employees to use the mental health benefits covered by their plan.
  • Social media. Finally, there has been a proliferation of credible websites and chatrooms for individuals with chronic conditions seeking peer support.

Will these programs yield any cost containment? Not appreciably. The real impact will come from better employee engagement and retention, improved customer satisfaction, and reduced absenteeism.

The rapid growth of innovative behavioral health services should provide employers with a level of confidence that they can tailor a program best suited to their priorities, organizational culture, and cost limitations. Collaborating with vendors to establish performance metrics before implementing behavioral health programs helps to set expectations and provide a basis for evaluating the program’s effectiveness.

Your turn: We’d love to hear what you think. Use the comment box below to share your perspective on this topic.

 

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