The Bank of San Antonio employees reap the benefits of Employee Assistance Programs, which provide resources to assist with personal and job-related concerns. Credit: Dustin Wenger/Giles Design Bureau

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Nearly 7 million Texans have a mental illness and would benefit from treatment, according to Mental Health America of Greater Dallas. But many who are suffering believe they have little or no access to treatment.

With mental and emotional challenges weighing heavily on employees during a global pandemic, business owners who have a strong Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place are discovering the benefits of investing in supporting their employees. Enabling employee access to mental health resources and treatments for mental illness has an undoubtedly positive affect on the workplace. From a rise in productivity to improved stress management, to increased morale and employee loyalty, entrepreneurs can lean on EAPs as a tool for talent recruitment and retention.

Indeed, Texas ranks 50th out of 51 states in overall access to mental health care, according to the 2021 State of Mental Health in America report. While some see light at the end of the tunnel as more and more of us get vaccinated, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. And the stress that has come with the coronavirus is enormous, not only for employees, but especially for business owners who have been faced with either ramping up or leaning out staff, enforcing safety protocols, and rapidly pivoting and innovating to keep up with the radically changing business environment.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so what better time to spotlight the tools that are available to support mental health, stress management, and wellness?

Nationally known psychotherapist Dr. Jamie Huysman states, “The last 18 months have taken their toll on our collective mental health and happiness. Many of us will not be aware of what has happened to us, although we may see how others are suffering. We are all doing the best we can under incredibly stressful and challenging times.

“Thankfully, the stigma of ‘getting help’ is not a taboo as it once was. It’s OK not to be OK, and it’s essential to know when the line has been crossed in ourselves and others. I am reminded of a revealing 12-step axiom that says, ‘the first step toward solving any problem is admitting there is a problem.’”

Finding that help, however, can be a challenge. Yet help may be readily available for many of those who are employed.

One of the most underutilized employee benefits can provide access to mental health counseling for those needing help, as well as offer support for stress management and healthy lifestyle habits, such as getting enough sleep, exercise, and maintaining a balanced diet. Businesses with employer-sponsored medical plans most likely have access to this benefit and don’t even know about it. Employee Assistance Programs are often integrated into group medical plans.

Mental health and wellness have always been important issues, but the realities of the pandemic have thrust them into the spotlight. For employers, an EAP is a tremendous resource that can be offered to employees and their families.

Employee Assistance Programs are meant to assist employees and their eligible dependents with personal or job-related concerns, including emotional well-being, family and relationships, legal and financial needs, healthy lifestyles, stress management and work-life transitions. Experienced, caring EAP professionals are available by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is also a convenient online database of resources to educate employees and their families on topics like substance abuse and other addictions, and dependent and elder care. Within many of these online libraries are educational articles and handouts for legal and financial support as well.

Employees can trust EAP professionals to assess their needs and handle their concerns in a confidential, respectful manner. Their goal is to find solutions that are responsive to an employee’s needs. The good news for workers is that the employer-sponsored services are provided at no additional cost. When an issue is more involved and can’t be resolved over the phone or online, the EAP professional can locate someone in an employee’s area to help with supplemental resources.

In addition to these integrated benefits, employers can elect to purchase more services to enhance the EAP, and give employees access to face-to-face visits with counselors who are trained professionals.

Mental health and well-being are too often overlooked in the workplace, but they can both have a dramatic impact on a business. If employees don’t have the resources they need to deal with the issues they’re facing, they may use company time to research and obtain corresponding information. Or, as we have seen in our country, some who do not get help may resort to violence.

Educating employees about their EAP and services available is a great place to start and will go a long way in improving overall employee happiness, engagement, productivity, and safety.

With an estimated 26% of Americans ages 18 and older – about 1 in 4 adults – suffering from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, according to www.hopkinsmedicine.org, an EAP offers a road to recovery at least for those in the workplace. And that’s good news at a time when we could all use a little good news.

Take the next step towards providing mental health support for your employees. Contact The Bank of San Antonio Insurance Group to learn more about how EAPs can help your business.

Gus Henderson

Gus Henderson is vice president of employee benefits at The Bank of San Antonio Insurance Group. He specializes in building partnerships with businesses to provide product solutions that support the well-being... More by Gus Henderson

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