COLLEGE STATION, TX — Mental health has been a big focus of 2020, primarily due to COVID-19. As people work to normalize the conversation around mental health, mental health benefits are also becoming more of a priority.
“People really treat their mental health similar to their physical health and say these are both important. To be a full person, I need to really look at both areas,” said Jay Maddock, professor at Texas A&M School of Public Health.
A survey by Handshake, a career-pairing company for college students, recently asked 1,000 students whether they were actively thinking about mental health. In response, 62% of college students said they want employers to think about mental health benefits as a part of a compensation plan.
“Unfortunately, it is so expensive, so with benefits to help, that would be so beneficial for their employees or anybody. And that should be a big priority, especially for companies that care about their employees,” said Texas A&M student Jake Taylor.
Maddock says while there have typically been mental health benefits by employers, those benefits are typically limited.
“We know with a lot of things like depression, three or four sessions are not going to take care of it. So, more and more people are saying, "Hey this should be part of my health insurance. I should get access to mental health services, and not just the provider that is offered by my employer." And so being able to actually go out and search for the best psychologist or psychiatrist for them,” said Maddock.
While employees are now wanting more mental health benefits, Maddock says there is also a need for more trained therapists to keep up with the demand.
“A lot of people are socially connected to their workplace, so if we take away their workplace, then you’re at home all the time. And so, it's really creating a demand that we don’t have the number of a trained therapists in the country before the COVID pandemic,” he said.
As we are seeing young adults push to make mental health benefits a priority, it is something that can help the middle-aged population as well. Over the last decade, suicide rates and drug dependency rates have increased for middle aged adults in the U.S.
“We are kind of seeing 35 to 50-year-old range is having a huge increase in death of despair. So, suicide, drug overdose, especially opioids, alcohol abuse that leads to death,” said Maddock.
While most employees and employers realize mental wellness is important when it comes to productivity at work, only 34% of employers actually offer those types of benefits, according to the survey.