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The mental health landscape among employees has changed over the last few years. It’s an issue that’s top of mind for employers, and many new platforms and programs have been put into place to address these challenges. It can be overwhelming for employers and employees alike to navigate the benefits solutions out there.

IBI President Kelly McDevitt moderated a Q&A with Tara Sherman, Mental Health and Well-being Strategy Leader, The Boeing Company, who provided an employer perspective on challenges and strategies around supporting employees during IBI’s webinar in March on mental health.

“There is this emphasis on mental health,” Tara said, “we were all suffering as a world, not just a country. The social contract [with employees] evolved to not only providing services, but also education for employees and managers on how to support their teams.”

Tara emphasized that communication and awareness are key. Boeing added well-being hours with workshops on a myriad of topics—mental health 101, sleep sessions, and how to find a good therapist. They worked with supplier partners to bring in experts to host workshops. “Those organizations we work with are part of our ecosystem to make sure our employees are getting the best care they can,” Tara explained.

Boeing also added virtual care options, including a virtual option specific to adolescent therapy- a much needed resource that can be hard to find. Their health plan provider added a navigation service, giving employees the opportunity to call a number and be guided through next steps and finding the right provider. Employees can be matched with providers that meet their needs, whether it be a certain gender, ethnicity or LGBTQ+ focus. This reduces the friction and challenges employees face with accessing that initial appointment.

Tara emphasized that an important aspect of their communication plan around mental health is telling employee stories. “By sharing employee’s stories that brings the conversation in and reduces stigma. It can be intimidating to approach these conversations,” she said.

IBI's Director of Research Candace Nelson, ScD, MA discussed the findings on incidences of depression and anxiety symptoms among the US workforce, and demographic differences in the data. According to IBI’s analysis, overall symptoms of anxiety or depression have declined from 40% during the height of the pandemic to 35% during our study period (7/21-8/22).

The rate of individuals taking a mental health prescription medication has increased from 20% to 22%, and the unmet need for counseling has also increased from 12% to 14%. Women are more likely (38%) to report symptoms of anxiety and depression than men (33%). The prevalence of anxiety and depression symptoms also decrease with age. The LGBTQ+ community reports a higher incidence (49%) of anxiety and depression symptoms than straight/cis-gender (34%).

IBI partnered with Elevance Health to analyze claims data related to mental health. Kathryn Caiazzo, RN, Staff VP Sales Operations at Elevance Health presented claims data. Six million members were included in the data period; 9% of members had a diagnosis of depression and anxiety, and 17% of members filled an antidepressant medication. COVID-19 also fueled the need for virtual care, and we see that in Elevance’s claims data.

“As Candace mentioned, we have significantly more women seeking out care…some of the younger generations are having more difficult with anxiety and depression. It’s something we need to dig into further…At Elevance, we’re deeply concerned and we would like to help address the problems that we’re seeing in the younger ages,” said Kathryn.

“Anxiety and depression are a comorbidity diagnosis with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer,” shared IBI President Kelly McDevitt. “While we look at utilization and survey questions, what we didn’t really dive deep into having a disease state which is associated with physical conditions. Those are ways we need to start addressing that diagnosis, and how we can have programs in place that looks at what is keeping you from getting better today.”

There are opportunities for further research, and IBI will be tackling more questions and analyzing further data around mental health at the end of 2023.

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