Assist mental health of workers by increasing access to telemedicine

Assist mental health of workers by increasing access to telemedicine
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The lack of behavioral health care services in the United States will have dire social and economic consequences if our leaders do not take action. As the nation grapples with rising unemployment and a financial crisis for those who have lost jobs, government officials must take several steps to support the mental health of workers across the country.

Serious mental health illnesses cost the nation more than $190 billion in lost earnings every year, according to data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Research shows the pandemic has taken a psychological toll on workers. One in four report feeling either hopeless or depressed. Over 40 percent of workers experience burnout. More than 20 percent feel the coronavirus threatens many parts of their jobs, such as growth opportunities, safety conditions, and salary and benefits.

Companies offer employee assistance programs, which provide resources such as counseling. While companies regularly review and restructure the benefit offerings to meet their distinct needs, the impact of the pandemic means mental health awareness and support needs more investment. The critical investment has started, but more is needed to strengthen benefit programs and prioritize the mental health of employees.

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Telemedicine services have now expanded during the pandemic to ease burdens on health facilities and to limit the spread of the coronavirus by allowing people to receive care remotely. Congress must seize upon this opportunity to make more reforms for telemedicine, such as eliminating barriers to telemedicine, allowing organizations to offer their employees this critical type of coverage, and letting licensed providers see patients with virtual visits across state lines to increase capacity.

Greater access to telemedicine, including telepsychiatry, will provide the resources for employees to navigate all health care options and privately seek the help that they need. The convenience of this offering will benefit employers and their employees because such services can be received at home and after work hours during a time when personal and professional schedules are anything but definite for so many workers.

The pandemic impacts workers and their mental health in different ways. Some employees may not be able to afford mental health services. They may not feel comfortable seeking assistance from employers. They may face barriers to care. A broader acceptance of mental health treatment shows employers are tackling this issue in the labor force.

The decisions that our leaders make in the coming days and weeks as a result of the coronavirus will have a lasting impact on our economy and society. But the nation cannot overcome the public health crisis without support for the mental health of workers during this time.

Emily Dickens is a lawyer who is the chief of staff and head of government affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management based in Virginia.