New Study Reveals Behavioral Health Benefits Pay Off

A new study finds outpatient mental health treatment programs can help avoid prolonged losses in worker productivity and reduce unnecessary absenteeism.

According to a survey conducted by the Employee Assistance Program Association, three out of 10 employees will experience a mental health problem in any given year. Additionally, a study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in 2003 found that lost productivity and absenteeism resulting from mental illness cost U.S. businesses almost $312 billion each year.

A new study, led by G.S. (Jeb) Brown, Ph.D., of the Center for Clinical Informatics in Salt Lake City and Edward Jones, Ph.D., vice president and chief clinical officer of PacifiCare Behavioral Health in Santa Ana, Calif., found that by reducing worker impairment over a short period of time, behavioral health outpatient treatment programs can help avoid prolonged losses in worker productivity and reduce unnecessary absenteeism two factors that translate into cost-savings for employers.

Said Jones, "Employers have historically had little information to measure the value of behavioral health benefits they offer their employees. Our ability to measure results is based on real-world data that provide employers with clear evidence that behavioral health benefits are a worthwhile investment for them."

The four-year study, conducted from 1999 through 2002 and published in the August issue of Employee Benefit Plan Review, involved 19,769 patients in outpatient behavioral health treatment who initially reported that they felt stress at work and were not as productive as in the past. More than half of those reporting work impairment were diagnosed with depression.

After only three weeks of outpatient treatment, the data demonstrated that the percentage of work-impaired individuals and productivity loss was reduced from 31 percent to 18 percent. Furthermore, after nine weeks of treatment, fewer than half of those who originally felt work-impaired (15 percent) still met impairment criteria.

On the other end of the spectrum, those individuals (13 percent) who still showed impairment after five months typically had been diagnosed with chronic behavioral health conditions.

"Employers are demanding more measured accountability and evidence of real value from their behavioral health care plans," said Suzanne Gelber, Ph.D., a behavioral health benefits consultant and federal policy researcher. "They want to know the value they are getting and how such coverage is making an impact on the workplace results."

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