02 Nov Finding Mental Health Resources
To Your Health
The landscape of mental health care has shifted as more individuals and companies recognize the importance of tending to mental well-being
By Nora Isaacs
The pandemic wreaked havoc on our individual and collective sense of safety and well-being. Whether they were experiencing sickness, loss, anxiety, depression, or isolation, few people were left untouched by its impact on their mental health.
“When the pandemic hit, I knew I had to be back in therapy,” says Jade Thomas, a senior channel sales executive at a San Francisco Bay Area software company.
Luckily, Thomas had a referral for therapy through a mental health provider under contract with her company’s health insurance provider. But unluckily, it was hard—especially as a woman of color—to find a therapist who was a good match. It took her a few misses to finally land on someone she connected with to help see her through the difficulties and unpredictability of the early pandemic.
Thomas was not alone in experiencing challenges during that time. According to the World Health Organization, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25 percent in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, racial and ethnic minority groups experienced disparities in mental health and substance misuse related to the pandemic. A report from the Centers for Disease Control revealed, for example, that symptoms of depression were reported 59 percent more frequently by Hispanic adults (40.3 percent) than non-Hispanic white adults (25.3 percent) in the United States in April and May 2020.
During the pandemic, many more people sought out mental health resources to cope with the uncertainty and stress that accompanied this global event. Since then, mental health awareness has increased and the stigma has decreased, causing a shift in how our culture handles care and how people find the resources they need.
Getting the right care
The slow and steady decrease in the negative perception of mental health care has been attributed to many things. Social media has enabled people to reach out more widely to find connections and resources. At the same time, high-profile celebrities, athletes, and politicians have come forward to share their mental health journeys. And with the pandemic, many people reached a point where their mental health could not be pushed aside any longer.
As conversations about mental health have increased, so have people’s desire to seek help. For people of color, however, there can be obstacles to finding a safe place. “I really wanted a therapist who’s a woman of color, particularly a Black woman, but that is incredibly difficult to find,” says Thomas, who describes herself as Black biracial. “When I’m with someone like me, I think that even if this person doesn’t have all of the details, I know they get me. Without it, I have a lot more explaining to do.” On a list from her insurance company, she says, were only two options for a Black female therapist—and both had full practices.
Employers filling the care gap
As mental health care becomes more visible, many companies are stepping in to fill the care gap. According to a report from the Society of Human Resources Management, Mental Health in 2022: A Workplace Report, three out of four organizations offer mental health resources or planned to offer these benefits within the coming year. A survey the same year from the American Psychological Association found that 71 percent of workers believe that employers are more concerned about their mental health than in the past.
As the need increases, some businesses are, either directly or through partnerships, finding new ways to meet the need by expanding mental health coverage, adding company wellness days off, and spearheading initiatives such as resiliency programs and meditation workshops.
D’Shonda Brown is a mental health care advocate who has seen positive changes in accessing care through the workplace. Her first exposure to talk therapy was via her father’s workplace employee assistance program (EAP), through which she found a therapist during a period of intense anxiety and depression. “I was very hesitant about going to therapy,” Brown says. “No one in my family had ever talked about it, and I was scared to address my issues.” Once she found support, and began discussing her experiences with anxiety and depression with those around her, she found that others began opening up about their own challenges.
Brown sees a shift in the way people are accessing care. “The conversations that millennials are having are not the same conversation my parents were having,” she says. She started a new job at a media entertainment company in 2019, right before the pandemic hit. When it did, she began experiencing emotional distress. Brown went to her HR department, and they worked out a plan for her to take a mental health break—the first of its kind for this start-up, she says. “They were really open to it, and it made me feel seen and heard that I could communicate my mental health needs.” Now the company is in the process of creating a policy for mental health leave. She sees this as progress, and encourages employees to reach out for support before they are overwhelmed. “We are people first,” she says.
Therapy . . . and beyond
As the mental health landscape shifts, experts see a move away from traditional EAPs to handle employees’ mental health support, which critics say can have long wait times due to lack of available therapists.
Instead, many companies are looking toward technology and innovation to provide a more flexible and personalized approach. One example is Modern Health, a mental health benefit provider for companies; employers purchase its services and then offer their employees access to the platform. The services follow a culturally competent model designed to meet each person where they are on their mental health journey.
In this evidence-based model, called “stepped care,” individuals are paired with the best modality of care based on their needs and preferences. Members have multiple care options they can engage in simultaneously, ranging from clinical to preventative. For example, if a person is best suited for therapy, they can take that route. But Modern Health acknowledges that therapy isn’t the best cultural fit for every person, according to Dr. Jessica Watrous, a psychologist and the director of clinical and scientific affairs at Modern Health. The platform’s options include a coaching network geared to specific areas of concern, such as a financial coach; a vast library of digital content; and a series of workshops for parents, their children, and caregivers.
Good for the bottom line
Whether they offer therapy, podcasts, workshops, or meditation apps, employers are starting to better understand that helping employees manage stress and prevent burnout has many benefits. Among them are increased employee retention, boosting productivity, and attracting new talent. It also helps to save money. “Individuals with a behavioral health concern have three and a half times the number of medical claims, across all medical health spending,” says Watrous. In other words, when people are suffering from mental health issues, they have more physical problems, which cost their company money. “Mental and physical health are connected—that is a piece people often don’t think about,” says Watrous.
As mental health care continues to come out into the open, consumers and employees will have more of a choice about how and where they can address their challenges. There is a lot of progress, but also a lot of work to be done, according to Watrous. “At the end of the day, I’d love to see people be really invested, and proactive care that supports people on a regular basis instead of waiting until people are in a crisis,” she says. “It’s good for employees, and it’s good for business.” DW
Nora Isaacs is a writer and editor living in the San Francisco Bay Area who writes about health, spirituality, and sustainability.
Accessing Mental Health Care
Your mental health care coverage depends on the type of insurance you have. Many group health insurance and private health insurance plans offer coverage, although they aren’t legally required to do so. Here are a few ways to find resources:
Ask your employer or insurer
Employees can reach out to their human resources department or directly to their health insurance company to understand how best to take advantage of a company’s mental health benefits. Some might offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) that provide support, and others might contract with a behavioral health provider such as Modern Health.
Know what is covered
Affordable Care Act marketplace plans cover behavioral health services, inpatient services, and substance abuse treatment. In addition, the federal parity law says that insurers that do provide mental health coverage must supply mental health/substance use disorder treatment that’s equal to or better than physical health coverage.
Find a referral organization
If you would like to find a therapist who is a good fit, a referral organization is a good place to start. One example is the Black Mental Health Alliance (BMHA), which offers confidential referrals for those seeking mental health services through an expansive database of culturally competent and patient-centered licensed mental health professionals.
Download an app
Therapy apps can connect you with a licensed therapist virtually. One example is BetterHelp. Customers—who pay a monthly fee—take a quiz to help match with the right therapist based on preferences, location, and availability. There are also apps aimed at a specific audience: for example, Pride Counseling specializes in the LGBTQI+ community, and Faithful Counseling provides therapy for the Christian community.