The HealthlinkNY Community Network Takes a Big Step Toward Making Mental Health a Priority for Employers by Introducing a Workplace Wellness Mental Health Toolkit

The HealthlinkNY Community Network Takes a Big Step Toward Making Mental Health a Priority for Employers by Introducing a Workplace Wellness Mental Health Toolkit

Mental Illness Accounts for More Lost Days and Productivity at Work Than any Other Chronic Health Condition, but Stigma Discourages Employers from Addressing It

According to the U.S. National Comorbidity Survey, 1 Out of 5 Employees Report They’ve Experienced a Mental Health Disorder in the Previous Month

December 8th, 2017 -  

(Binghamton, New York—December 8, 2017)… Employers spend millions on wellness programs to keep their workforce healthy and productive. But most programs avoid tackling what has become a silent epidemic in the workplace: mental illness and substance use disorders. According to the U.S. National Comorbidity Survey, nearly 1 in 5 working adults between ages 15 and 54 report experiencing a mental health disorder in the previous month, and close to 1 out of 10 full-time employees depend on or overuse alcohol or illicit drugs, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Failure to recognize such behavioral health issues comes at a big price: between $79 billion and $105 billion a year in indirect costs to employers, according to the National Business Group on Health.

But now, the HealthlinkNY Community Network and its collaborative partners, Chenango Health Network, Human Services Coalition, and Rural Health Network of South Central New York, Inc., have produced a Workplace Wellness Mental Health Toolkit to help employers make supporting employee mental health a workplace priority. To date, more than 20 employers throughout the Hudson Valley and Southern Tier are piloting the program.

The Tools in the Kit

The toolkit is actually a 55-page document that pulls together all the materials necessary to make mental health wellness an organizational priority by promoting discussion and treatment of behavioral health issues. Two essential tools are (1) a Company Mental Health Culture Audit to establish a baseline measure of mental health awareness and support in the workplace, and (2) a Workplace Wellness Needs Survey for employees to identify what type of support they need.

The toolkit also includes: a language guide so that managers and staff avoid stigmatizing phrases that discourage people from seeking help; tips on how to choose and promote use of Employee Assistance Plans (EAPs) to connect employees to counseling; how to establish a Workplace Mental Health Policy; techniques to encourage employee self-care; support for caregivers and new parents; and other important resources.

Phillip Ginter, LMSW, MPH, Regional Director of Community Initiatives at HealthlinkNY, says the toolkit can be used by both large and small organizations, from owner-operated businesses to multistate companies. Currently, pilot sites include businesses, schools, healthcare organizations, government, and nonprofit organizations. “It’s a pretty diverse group,” he says. He adds that HealthlinkNY is seeking other organizations to pilot the program. Regional employers interested in learning more can start by participating in HealthlinkNY’s online Workplace Wellness Regional Inventory Survey available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/hlnyworkplacewellness.

Mental Health Is a Regional Priority

Ginter traces the origins of the toolkit to 2016. As part of a regional population health planning process in the Hudson Valley and Southern Tier, behavioral health was identified as a priority in both regions. The HealthlinkNY Community Network convened work groups in each region, consisting of healthcare providers, local health officials, community-based organizations, and advocacy groups, to determine how HealthlinkNY could best support improved behavioral health outcomes. In the end, the group identified stigma as the greatest barrier to accessing care.

 “We asked ourselves how could we change the conversation about mental health and substance use and reduce the associated stigma?” Ginter explains. “We interviewed over 70 local businesses and found that while many employers offered workplace wellness programs, most were focused on physical health and very few, if any, offered programming around mental health. That’s where our Mental Health Toolkit comes in. The Toolkit takes employers through the necessary steps to create a culture of acceptance. Simply put, we’ve taken what can be a daunting process and broken it down into actionable steps.”

Ginter says by enhancing employee emotional and mental well-being, organizations can benefit through higher employee productivity, lower medical costs, lower absenteeism, and accident reduction, among other positive results. Mental illness accounts for more days of work loss and work impairment than any other chronic condition, including back pain and heart disease, according to the American Psychiatric Association Foundation

“Our goal is to raise awareness that stigma is preventing so many people in this region from being treated for mental and substance use disorders,” Ginter says. “People used to be afraid to talk about cancer, and that denied cancer patients the emotional support they needed. We want to lift the stigma of talking about behavioral health issues and create a safe environment in the workplace for people to seek help. The toolkit is filled with resources and activities that employers can use to create that safe environment. It will make a real difference in employee well-being.”

To learn more about how to become a pilot site, please email community@healthlinkny.com.

About the HealthlinkNY Community Network

The HealthlinkNY Community Network is a New York State Department of Health initiative aimed at improving population health and reducing healthcare disparities throughout the seven counties of the Hudson Valley (Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester) and the five counties of the Southern Tier (Broome, Chenango, Delaware, Tioga, and Tompkins). The HealthlinkNY Community Network convenes stakeholders from throughout the region to identify, share, and disseminate best practices and strategies to improve health outcomes across the region. The HealthlinkNY Community Network provides a neutral forum for local stakeholders to meet and accomplish these goals.

About HealthlinkNY

HealthlinkNY is a Qualified Entity (QE), funded by the New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH), which operates the Health Information Exchange (HIE) connecting providers and patients in 13 counties in the Hudson Valley and Southern Tier of New York. The HealthlinkNY HIE offers electronic access to patients’ community-wide health records and serves as the region’s access point to the Statewide Health Information Network of New York (SHIN-NY), supporting collaboration between healthcare providers across the state. As the region’s hub of health information and improvement, HealthlinkNY supports healthcare delivery reform (DSRIP) and fosters collaboration among public and private health plans. Through the HealthlinkNY Community Network, the organization also operates population health improvement programs (PHIPs) in the Hudson Valley and the Southern Tier of New York. Learn more by visiting www.healthlinkny.com