The Business Case for Addressing Mental Health and Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Posted on December 30, 2012 by VITAL WorkLife

We're great fans of the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health—they do excellent work in the areas of research, tracking trends and providing tools for employers. In their most recent update, they brought up a study from a couple years ago that is still one of the best that we've seen that makes the case for tackling mental health and substance abuse issues.

The Business Case for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Disorder Treatment: A Literature Review states, "There is a compelling business case for effective treatment of mental health and substance abuse use disorders. Access to quality mental health/addiction care—sometimes called behavioral health care—is essential because of the high prevalence of these conditions in the workplace and their impact on the health care costs and the corporate bottom line if left untreated."

As you enter into business and program planning for 2013, it might be helpful to consider some of the main points from this study:

  • Mental health and substance abuse disorders are prevalent:
    • 30-40% of the population experience mental health and substance abuse disorders at some point in their lives, with 15-20% requiring professional care each year.
    • Almost 10% of workers are classified as heavy alcohol users and 8% use illicit drugs.
    • There is significant co-occurrence between mental health and substance abuse disorders (up to 25%) and between mental health/substance abuse disorders and chronic medical conditions.
  • Most people (an estimated two-thirds) do not receive treatment; those that do often delay seeking treatment for many years (10 years or more), during which time they are likely to develop additional problems.
  • Impact on business:
    • Individuals who don't get treatment are costly in terms of workplace productivity deficits and increased use of medical services.
    • People with chronic medical illnesses with co-occurring mental health conditions make up a considerable, rapidly-growing portion of disability caseloads.
    • Mental illness STD claims are growing by 10% annually and make up 30% or more of the disability burden for the typical employer.
    • People with substance abuse disorders have overall health costs over twice that of those without those disorders; employees with substance abuse and mental health disorders have costs that are even higher.
    • People with chronic medical issues are more likely to suffer from depression, e.g., 45% of asthma patients and 27% of people with diabetes, driving up costs by:
      • Increasing impairment of functioning
      • Decreasing adherence to prescribed regimens of medical care (depressed patients are three times as likely to be non-compliant)
      • Increasing unnecessary utilization of healthcare services, being more likely to visit primary care physicians, emergency rooms and to be hospitalized vs. patients without co-morbid mental disorders. For example, people with diabetes and depression have four times the amount of healthcare expenditures as those with diabetes alone.
  • Less than half of all patients seen by a doctor in a primary care/health clinic setting are screened for mental health, alcohol or substance abuse.
    • Yet, primary care physicians, not mental health professionals, treat the vast majority of patients with mental health and substance abuse symptoms.
    • However, "the quality of care delivered by primary care physicians often is simply inadequate or inappropriate and usually does not conform to evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for mental health treatment."
  • Timely, appropriate treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders has a clear ROI in terms of reducing medical costs as well as the indirect costs to employers around productivity-related impacts (absenteeism, presenteeism, productivity, turnover, replacement worker costs, etc.)

They also have found "Screening and Brief Intervention, Referral and Treatment (SBIRT) has been shown to have a positive return on investment." This clearly points to the role EAP can play in addressing these issues. Our expertise in these areas makes us a great first stop for employees who might be unsure of where to turn, and need to know what their options are. We can make sure that they receive the appropriate care by the best providers for their problems—and also address the many psychosocial issues that surround mental health and substance abuse issues that can be just as troubling.

Members: access your EAP resources by calling 800.383.1908 or through your VITAL WorkLife App. 

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