Mental health became a hot topic for employers several years ago, when workforce expectations demanded a more frequent and open dialogue around mental health issues. Many employers reacted by introducing mental health perks, programs and campaigns for their employees. And since then, the state of American mental health has plummeted due to the COVID-19 crisis, putting a spotlight on what tangible offerings employers are providing, how well they’re communicating those to employees and in what ways they’re measuring their efforts in order to be accountable.

In late April 2021, McKinsey & Company released new survey data on this very topic and results revealed a harsh disconnect between employees and employers around mental health needs. Regarding substance use disorders (SUDs) specifically, 84 percent of employee respondents with a substance use disorder reported it is challenging to access care, while only 20 percent of employers reported that improving access to SUD treatment and recovery supports is a priority.

At Lionrock, we’ve spent the last ten years encouraging employers to make comprehensive SUD treatment and recovery services available to employees in addition to their core benefits packages, which all too often do not provide coverage for the level of care required to successfully treat substance abuse problems. It’s possible that the events of 2020 and the resulting increase in substance abuse issues will push employers to make the proper investments in these benefits. In fact, McKinsey’s recent survey found that about two-thirds of employers reported concern about substance use disorders among employees.

Even if mental health benefits are offered, there needs to be a concerted effort to amplify them and talk openly about them to ensure those benefits are accessible and utilized. A huge challenge in doing that is tackling the stigma that accompanies mental health disorders, including SUDs. McKinsey’s survey reported that about 70 percent of employees believe there is a moderate to high level of stigma around substance use disorder in the workplace. With stigma that prolific, it becomes a barrier to accessing care. Anti-stigma campaigns are one tool employers can use to combat the issue—but those are far under-utilized; less than a quarter of employers surveyed have conducted an anti-stigma campaign. And even considering those that have, only 6 percent of employees surveyed reported being aware of an anti-stigma campaign at work. This data reveals two key learnings: first, there is tremendous opportunity among employers to reduce stigma through anti-stigma campaigns and second, without a strategy to amplify those campaigns among employees, there is very little benefit to creating them in the first place.

McKinsey & Company’s survey results are helpful in highlighting where there are opportunities for employers to improve. Towards the end of the report, five key questions are listed for employees to consider if they want to support employee mental health in a meaningful way. They are:

  1. How does your organization make it clear that mental health is a top priority?
  2. How is your organization enhancing mental health supports and mitigating barriers to access?
  3. How often and through what channels does leadership communicate about mental health supports?
  4. How is your organization cultivating an inclusive culture to reduce stigma around mental health disorders?
  5. How is your organization measuring its efforts and holding itself accountable?

More in-depth results of the McKinsey & Company survey are detailed here. For more information on how Lionrock works with employers, please contact us here.