Every individual has a unique mental health journey and specific preferences for how, when, and where they receive help. Selecting a one-size-fits-all mental health benefit may exclude people who are unsure about what they need or want. In other cases, barriers to utilization may exist that are cultural, logistical, or cost-related.
When evaluating mental health programs and services that will best serve your members, consider these five factors to make sure you’ve identified some important distinctions between offerings.
Must Have #1: Evidence-Based Methods, Content, and Results
The scientific basis and efficacy of mental health methodologies and programs vary in the marketplace. The first thing to consider when evaluating a solution is the research.
- Is the program content peer reviewed?
- Has the program been studied and vetted for clinical safety, efficacy, and impact?
It is also important to evaluate a program’s ability to improve clinical outcomes.
- Does the program result in psychometric improvement as the user progresses through their selected program?
- How do the results of the online program compare to in-person therapy?
Research-based clinical outcomes facilitate selection of an online mental health program that meets your members’ needs by augmenting EAP solutions and in-person therapy services.
Must Have #2: Accessibility
Widely documented access barriers for face-to-face mental health services include accessibility and stigma. Many people must work or care for children or other family members during normal business hours, or cannot afford out-of-pocket costs to see a therapist. Other factors that impede access include:
- Fear of discrimination and prejudice in the workplace, at home, and among friends due to the stigma of mental illness.
- The shortage of qualified mental health professionals contributes to long wait times that can discourage members from getting the help they need.
- Some members prefer alternatives to traditional face-to-face therapy, particularly in the digital age.
- Mental health resources that use complex health care jargon or complicated and intimidating materials can be a deterrent.
Stigma and accessibility issues associated with mental health problems must be considered when selecting mental health services for members. Health plans mush give members a straightforward way to engage while lowering common barriers. Consider a solution that is:
- Online. Virtual programs and services are an excellent way to overcome logistical difficulties or discomfort in seeking care outside the privacy of the home.
- Self-paced and self-guided. Members appreciate the ability to choose how they engage. Barriers are minimized when they can take their time and select programs and content that resonate with their needs.
- Easy-to-understand content. People engage more with animation and simple lessons rather than formal messages delivered by clinicians with whom they may not identify. Look for programs with content designed to be friendly, gracious, reassuring, and inviting.
Must Have #3: Tools to Support Engagement
Awareness is key for program success. Evaluation of mental health solutions should include strategies the company will employ to help drive utilization. Members must be reminded regularly about the program, its value, and the associated resources that can help them through everyday challenges, as well as the more difficult life events.
There are several tools that a vendor who is invested in the success of the program can provide. From email content to highlight new program features, to printed materials that can be displayed in break rooms and other common areas, there are many great strategies to increase awareness and encourage engagement. In addition, there are times of the year that can be stressful for many people – back to school and the holidays to name a couple – and extra resources can be very timely. Communication support from a mental health program can alleviate pressure on internal teams and promote both engagement in the program and the value of, and satisfaction with the benefit.
Must Have #4: Blend of Content Types and Support
Each member is unique in their background, culture, health literacy level, and understanding of how therapy works. They have diverse needs and goals for their mental health, which in turn requires a multitude of strategies to engage members in their journey. Consider a program that can offer:
- Comprehensive assessments that suggest personalized growth opportunities.
- A variety of programs to meet a wide array of needs – some may need help managing a mental health problem like depression or anxiety, and others may want to learn to be more resilient in the face of life’s everyday challenges.
- Ongoing outreach to maintain engagement including live webinars that provide members with information about timely topics like seasonal affective disorder, or situation-specific topics like coping with grief or finding support for postpartum depression.
- Weekly encouraging text messages for members who may not want to engage with a program, but can benefit from “Mindfulness MomentsTM” that serve as reminders to pause and take a mental health break.
- Live clinician coaching. While the data shows users’ psychometric scores improve with CBT-based therapy, the addition of coaching leads to a statistically significant improvement in clinical outcomes.
- The ability to invite a friend or family member for support. Mental health programs that incorporate an individual’s social network to help members cope with stress are proven to be more effective. The support of a loved one throughout a person’s mental health journey can provide a powerful boost in psychometric score improvement.
Must Have #5: Reporting
The value of a mental health program is measured by its ability to lower costs without sacrificing the efficacy of care. There are several important questions that your vendor should answer:
- Are members engaging in these programs?
- How many members are using it?
- What programs are most popular?
- Is their mental health improving?
- How are they hearing about the program? Is there work we can do to improve engagement and awareness?
- Are members satisfied and realizing value when they engage?
Find the Solution that Can Meet a Variety of Needs
Keep in mind the primary barriers to seeking mental health care—stigma, access, and cost—and the fact that many Americans who report experiencing the need for mental health care don’t seek it. Members are beginning to expect mental health benefits from their health plans, but those services must be evidence-based, accessible, and desirable. The mental health marketplace has become crowded and confusing, but these considerations can be helpful in identifying an inclusive, flexible, and meaningful solution that will meet your members’ needs.
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