The challenges with EAPs and mental health

The challenges with EAPs and mental health

Individuals with depression miss an average of 4.8 workdays and suffer 11.5 days of reduced productivity in a given three-month period.1 It’s no surprise that mental health issues are a growing concern for employers. Employers know they should be having proactive discussions with their employees and want to find the right solutions, but many don’t know where to start. While an employee assistance program (EAP) is usually the first thought, a resource that many HR managers are forgetting to tap into is their disability insurance carrier.

Here’s the first challenge: Employees may not understand that they can (or should) use their company’s EAP.

This is unfortunate, because active EAPs are one of the most effective ways to support an employee who is dealing with a mental health issue, such as depression.1 Job stress, family issues, alcohol and substance abuse, and mental health are all concerns an EAP can address.

A recent study surveyed 48 EAP vendors and found that the median utilization rate was only 3.6% for clinical cases that have sessions with a counselor.2 With counseling just being one of many helpful services offered — such as manager consultations, trainings and organizational development support, workplace crisis response services, and family work-life services — why are employees not using them? Some worry it’s not confidential, others are concerned about the stigma associated with reaching out for help. Employees may also wonder if they need to go through their manager or HR to access this assistance.

You can start to overcome these obstacles by building awareness of your company’s EAP service and describing how individuals can access these benefits. Explaining this to employees during their initial orientation will likely not be enough, so don’t hesitate to work this into other wellness reminders.

Here’s the second challenge: HR may not realize that a disability carrier can provide a unique advantage.

A disability carrier can bridge the gap between the EAP and the employee, taking some of the pressure off the HR professional. A disability carrier’s case manager can provide the initial support an employee needs and link them up with an EAP. Additionally, the case manager can follow up with the employee to see if they used the service, if they have any questions or need additional care.

This was the case for a mechanic who needed some time off work after several stressful life experiences. A Workplace Possibilities consultant was able to help him make a plan for additional care when his EAP-sponsored session ended.

Here’s another thing I should mention — because EAP programs are not housed within the organizations they work for, they may not be able to address workplace issues specific to that employee or organization. A disability case manager provided by your insurance carrier, however, can gain insights into how the work environment may be impacting the employee’s mental health. This understanding may be a vital factor in the successful return to work for this employee.

EAPs can be a beneficial resource for employees dealing with mental health issues — if they know how they can access it. By working together with your disability carrier, you can more effectively ensure employees are getting the help they need. Overcome these two obstacles, and you’ll be on your way to a healthier, more productive employee population.


1 CDC website. Workplace Health Promotion: Depression. http://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/implementation/topics/depression.html Published Oct. 23, 2013. Accessed July 9, 2015.

2 Attridge M, Cahill T, Granberry S, et al. The National Behavioral Consortium industry profile of external EAP vendors. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health: Employee Assistance Practice and Research, 2013;28(4):251-324.

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