Looking Ahead: Caring for the Whole Person

A recent understanding of the ripple effects of mental health conditions calls for plan sponsors to increase support and offer anti-stigma campaigns.
MH Research

One in five U.S. adults is living with a mental health condition, but many more are affected by them and nearly three in 10 employees suffer from severe stress, anxiety, or depression. These conditions take a physical and financial toll, not only on members and their families, but on plan sponsors as well since people experiencing mental health conditions can bring those issues to work. In all, this can affect plan spend and result in work productivity loss. For example, those living with depression have average overall medical costs 2.5 times higher than those without depression.Moreover, they are three times less likely to follow recommended treatment plans, which can drive up spend for your plan and put the patient’s health further at risk.

Addressing mental health was one of the most prominent issues that plan sponsors were focused on in 2020. In fact, a recent study from Mercer found that 75 percent of employers with 5,000 or more employees said that access to behavioral health was a concern in some or all of their locations. However, in these changing and unpredictable times, it’s even more important for plan sponsors to keep their members’ mental health in mind and ensure that they can support them.

In our recently published report, America’s State of Mind, we examined the impact COVID-19 has had on mental health in the U.S. An early analysis found that the number of prescriptions filled per week for antidepressant, anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia medications increased 21 percent between February 16 and March 15, peaking during the week ending March 15. This coincides with the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a pandemic and the U.S. declaring a national emergency in response to the crisis.

We know that when left untreated, mental health conditions have the potential to further negatively impact patients’ lives, making it difficult for them to focus or maintain daily activities. Additionally, if those mental health conditions go untreated, either due to a lack of resources, access to care, or stigma associated with that care, they can usually lead to suicide, according to an analysis conducted by the RAND Corporation.

There are many warning signs of suicidal ideation, one being the use of medication. More than 200 prescription medications, including analgesics, beta blockers, birth control, and steroids, to name a few, carry a warning of depression or, even worse, an increased risk of suicidal ideation. This gives pharmacists a key role to play in identifying patients who may be at risk for suicide, by reviewing their medications and medical conditions. Through this, they can infer certain medical conditions that may identify “at risk” patients for suicide, like mental health disorders or chronic pain.

Addressing mental health issues is beneficial for everyone. Not only is it clinically effective for patients who are suffering, it reduces downstream medical costs and health care utilization, and increases productivity in the workforce. Plan sponsors shouldn’t overlook mental health needs when addressing whole person health for their members.


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