When It Comes To Workers And Mental Health, Employers Are Stepping In When Insurers Fall Short

Some companies even offer therapy on-site because health insurance companies lag behind when it comes adequately covering mental health services.

By Laura RiceNovember 28, 2019 10:00 am,

For those struggling with mental health, the problems don’t disappear when it’s time to clock in for work. And while the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, is supposed to ensure employers accommodate those with certain mental health diagnoses, that may not be enough to address the number of American workers living with mental health disorders. A 2018 Harris Poll found 76% of workers struggle with at least one issue related to their mental health. 

Cynthia Koons, a Bloomberg health care reporter, says there are many obstacles for those who want to succeed in the workplace but struggle with their mental health. If a worker believes their rights are being violated, one option is to sue their employer for violating the ADA. But that approach can be expensive and could expose a worker to public scrutiny. 

“Mental health doesn’t necessarily have the same groundswell of public protest that other topics do in America,” Koons says. “So this discretion and anonymity – people continuing to keep this under wraps – prevents people from going through with lawsuits against employers in such a way that might more publicly expose some of the problems that happen.”

Koons says another hurdle for workers is the failure of insurance companies to adequately cover mental health care. They don’t treat mental health with the same gravitas as physical health, she says, and they often fail to update their list of mental health care providers, which makes it hard for workers to find the right help. 

“The networks may have a number of psychiatrists or psychologists in them but those doctors or therapists aren’t taking new patients, they have waitlists, they don’t take that insurance anymore,” Koons says.  

Some companies do step in to cover gaps in mental health care. Lyft, Microsoft and Chevron are known to provide things like mental health care on-site, in some cases. But there’s only so much employers can do to address what’s really a widespread public health issue, Koons says.

“Employers are doing what they can. But they are, in essence, augmenting a system that’s broken, and it really is going to take the employer pushback for insurers to start doing a better job on mental health care,” she says.

Koons says a robust mental health insurance system is needed to address the problem among American workers.

“Without insurance really existing in a very robust way, then people aren’t going to get the care that they need,” she says. 

In the meantime, she says nonprofits can help. The organization Made of Millions has a guide called “Beautiful Brains,” which was created to help employees learn to talk effectively about their mental health in the workplace. 

“There’s many avenues that employees can pursue, and nonprofits they can align with,” Koons says. “But to some extent it’s going to take the companies themselves really doing the work and pushing for the change within their own insurance plans and benefits programs for this to change on a substantial level.”


Written by Libby Cohen.