The Surging Suicide Rate; What Should Employers Do?

Today’s news headlines that life expectancy for Americans fell for the second time in the past 3 years painted a disturbing picture of life in America.   The primary reasons for the decline? Increasing deaths from opioid abuse and suicide.

The suicide rate in America is up 33% in less than 20 years. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among those aged 10-34 and fourth leading cause of death among 35-54 year olds.

The suicide rate is up 33% in less than 20 years

Why the suicide rate has increased so rapidly is open to debate. Alcohol and substance abuse, increasing rates of depression, the declines in the family structure as well as sense of community, economic woes, even smartphone usage have all been associated with suicide in one way or another.

Mental health and suicide

The reasons for the increase in the suicide rate may be complicated, but what is clear is that suicide is preventable. In 2016, 45,000 people died by suicide in the US. The number of people who attempted suicide was nearly 29 times higher than that. That’s over 1.25 million people who attempted suicide but survived.

Survivors often describe that it wasn’t the desire to die that drove their suicide attempt, but a desire to escape pain. That pain can be physical, but is often mental pain. Mental pain can be difficult to acknowledge because of the stigma that exists around mental health issues.

The role of employers

One in five Americans will suffer a mental health issue in a given year

Employers have a vested interest in recognizing the importance of mental health.  Employees suffering from mental health issues such as depression will miss approximately five workdays and experience 11.5 days of reduced productivity every three months. This isn’t an isolated issue either. One in five American adults will suffer from some type of mental health issue in a given year.

How can employers help? First, companies need to eliminate the stigma of mental health. Studies have shown that more accepting workplaces have happier employees with better productivity. Awareness and education through frank and open discussions and training is critical in removing mental health stigma.

Second, employers need to learn to recognize the signs of depression. Depression can manifest itself in many different ways: physically, behaviorally and emotionally. Physically, changes in appetite, aches and pains, changes in sleep habits and feeling extremely tired can all occur. Behaviorally, those with depression may exhibit irritability, restlessness, trouble concentrating or difficulty completing daily routines. Increased alcohol consumption or reckless behavior can occur. Emotionally, a strong and consistent feeling of sadness, anxiety or hopelessness may be noticed.

Many companies offer exercise programs or wellness classes such as yoga or meditation. Unilever, one of many companies that have established comprehensive programs designed specifically to support employee mental health, provides regular employee workshops on sleep, mindfulness and exercise, all of which have been linked to good mental health and psychological wellbeing.

One of the most effective ways to support employees with mental health conditions is taking advantage of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Comprehensive EAP programs offer information workshops and training for employees and supervisors on mental health. This training helps employees recognize the symptoms of depression and prepares workers and supervisors for actions that need to be taken when suicide prevention measures are called for. Employees have access to counselors through the EAP who are trained and certified to handle mental health issues such as depression.

Of course, many people in need don’t seek help. They’re afraid to come forward because of the stigma of mental health. They’re worried about confidentiality or they fear their mental health conditions may jeopardize their employment.

At Espyr®, we offer an industry-first Interactive Screening Program (ISP) that provides employees with a convenient, anonymous way to connect with a qualified counselor about available service options through their EAP – and address their concerns before they escalate.

Offered in association with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the program has been especially effective. As one participant put it, “I was finally able to let someone know how badly I was feeling without any judgment.”

Learn more

As a leading behavioral health provider, Espyr has extensive experience working with employers to recognize and deal with employee mental health issues such as depression or feelings of suicide. To learn more how Espyr can help your organization call us at 888-570-3479 or click here.



Health and Wellness: Revealing Trends In Benefits

The numbers don’t lie. The inclusion of new, innovative health and wellness offerings and initiatives as part of a company’s benefits package is increasing dramatically. In a survey by WorldatWork, the leading nonprofit professional association in compensation and total rewards, 900 respondents across the country described some of the ways companies in 2017 are taking better care of their employees than they were in 2016. In this article, we’ll take you through the most impactful changes.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – Up 20%

According to the WorldatWork survey, 80% of the respondents’ companies offered an EAP in 2016. In 2017, that number went up to 96%. This should not come as a surprise. A comprehensive EAP program, implemented correctly, can improve employee retention, reduce absenteeism and help produce a happier, more productive workforce. Increasingly, employers and employees are recognizing the value – even as a recruiting tool. On their 2018 list of ten perks that attract and retain employees, places EAPs just behind Snacks and Coffee, Flexible Work Schedules and Working from Home.

Behavioral Health Plans – Up 17%

Offered by 78% of the surveyed companies in 2016 and 91% in 2017, behavioral health plans and services are quickly becoming the norm. While engagement in these plans has been an issue historically, it’s important to have the resources in place for those who might need them. The other good news? More companies are making efforts to demystify these programs and remove the associated stigma. By making behavioral health part of a company’s culture and involving senior leadership, more and more employees are taking advantage of these services.

Another trend that will help: an increase in coaching vs. counseling. While the best coaches receive training and education comparable to counselors, the idea of coaching is something that is inherently more approachable.

Wellness Incentives – Up 18%

By providing rewards other than wellness itself, incentive programs can be very effective, and have increased in use from 56% in 2016 to 66% in 2017. Incentives could be anything from blue ribbons to free or subsidized health club memberships, often landing somewhere in the middle – cash, gift cards, event tickets and health insurance discounts.Fitness class

When combined with simple, short-term prizes, wellness incentives provide employees with enough motivation to get the wellness ball rolling until they begin to feel the internal benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

Outcomes-Based Wellness Programs – Up 33%

All wellness programs are, of course, outcomes-based in that they hope to achieve better health outcomes for as many employees as possible. Outcomes-based wellness programs, however, are simply incentive-based programs designed to achieve a certain outcome, like not smoking or losing weight.

According to WellSteps, an employee wellness solutions company, an outcomes-based wellness program will increase program participation and effectiveness. A combination of data feedback and healthy activities can encourage desired health behaviors while giving employees many different ways to qualify. If you treat people with respect and don’t force them to participate, WellSteps points out, your employees will love your wellness program and employee morale will get a big boost.

Health Coaching – Up 14%

As mentioned earlier, counseling can still carry a stigma that keeps some people with behavioral health issues from seeking help. Also, people may need advice, direction or just someone to talk to, and don’t have the need for formal counseling. This is where health coaching can help. With more of a positive connotation than counseling, more employees will seek the help they need.

And it’s working. According to the International Coaching Federation, 86% of companies who implement a coaching program feel the ROI was valuable.

Financial Wellness Services – Up 10%

In their 2017 survey on corporate health and well-being, Fidelity Investments® and the National Business Group on Health® revealed 84% of companies now offer financial wellness services, such as access to debt management tools or student loan counseling, an increase from 76% in 2016. As more employers recognize the impact of financial wellness on employee health, a growing percentage of companies are expanding their well-being programs to include employee financial security.$100 bill puzzle

As programs, services and offerings continue to evolve, employers are embracing a broader definition of well-being, one that leads to increased participation and engagement among their workforce – and greater productivity. “Today’s programs take more of a ‘health meets wealth’ approach,” said Adam Stavisky, senior vice president, Fidelity Benefits Consulting. “They reflect a blend of financial, physical and social/emotional programs to provide maximum support for members.”

If you’d like to learn how your company can catch up to the trends in wellness – and improve the happiness and productivity of your workforce – call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or click here.

What Makes Healthy Companies Healthy?

Most of us spend more time at work than we do at home and research has proven that the modern workplace is not the healthiest place. Due to too much time sitting at a desk, eating poorly and the constant stress, today’s employees suffer from back pain, weight problems and a variety of stress-related disorders, among many other maladies. recently explored what makes a healthy company healthy for their article, “How the 100 Healthiest Companies in America Handle Wellness Differently Than You Do.” Tapping into an annual report of the “Healthiest 100 Workplaces in America” done by health analytics software company Springbuk, they noted some characteristics that healthy workplaces had in common.

Wellness needs to be a core value

Healthy companies emphasized wellness as a core value. noted a difference between those companies creating a wellness program because it’s trendy versus prioritizing employee health. If wellness isn’t a core value, it will be pushed to the side and forgotten when times get tough.

“…healthy employees are more creative, passionate and productive….”

One company on Springbuk’s list, The Starr Group, a Milwaukee-based insurance and risk solutions company, incorporated health and wellness into its core values, mission and vision. “We have experienced first-hand that healthy employees are more creative, passionate and productive, which equates to better customer service and retention, as well as a more profitable company overall,” said Mary Starr, EVP .”

Health is about more than the physical body

Health of the mind and the body are tied together. A person can run marathons and eat healthy, yet derail his or her overall wellness by not taking care of the mind.

“…29% of those with a medical disorder had a comorbid mental health condition…”

Unfortunately, Springbuk’s report found that just 8.5% of the 8,000 companies analyzed focus on mental health. A wellness program can’t be completely successful without supporting employees’ mental health, as well as physical health.

Our experience at Espyr has shown that mental health is a greater concern than many may think. Mental and physical health often go hand-in-hand. According to the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R), more than 68% of adults surveyed with a mental disorder had at least one medical disorder. And 29% of those with a medical disorder had a comorbid (the presence of two chronic diseases or conditions simultaneously) mental health condition.

Workplace stress is a real issue when it comes to mental health. In their 2017 Work Health Survey Report, Mental Health America reports:

  • 80% of employees stated that workplace stress affected their personal relationships
  • 35% of employees “always” miss 3 – 5 days of work a month because of workplace stress

Fortunately, research also shows that instituting the proper wellness initiatives focusing on both physical and mental health – from exercise facilities to naps to a comprehensive EAP (Employee Assistance Program) – leads to healthier employees and a healthier bottom line. went on to provide a couple of great ideas to get employees on board:

Take advantage of wearables

As part of a university study, Buffalo, N.Y.-based insurance firm Walsh Duffield started offering wearables to employees. The program allowed employees to gain a deeper understanding of their wellness level and helped land Walsh Duffield at No. 42 on Springbuk’s list.

“Pre-wearables, people weren’t able to see how simple movement translates into success,” said wellness coordinator Courtney K. Moskal. “People are now more motivated to take that extra lap around their neighborhood after work to reach their goal and understand what it might take to maintain or lose weight.”

While some startups can’t afford to buy top-of-the-line wearables, there are affordable alternatives. Almost every smartphone, for instance, has a built-in pedometer or allows you to download one for free.

Offer the right incentives

Not everyone is athletic or into fitness, but they can still participate in wellness programs. They just need a bit of incentive. The best corporate wellness programs offer a wide range of incentives to get employees moving.

To get employees to reach fitness goals – miles walked, steps or hours in the gym — some companies offer insurance premium reductions, some give cash and some offer gift cards.

Some companies, like San Francisco-based health coaching platform Optimity, let employees choose their own motivation to exercise. “We provide a full catalog of gift cards — Starbucks, Amazon, Sephora, Target, etc. — as well as customized rewards like trophies, company swag, paid days off and health-spending account contributions,” said CEO Jane Wang. found that wellness initiatives are paying off for those companies who approached wellness the right way. Of the companies that track financial ROI, more than one in 10 reported seeing $2 to $3 back on every dollar they invested in employee health.

If your company is developing a wellness program and you want to be sure that you have the right EAP component, call Espyr anytime at 866-570-3479 or click here and we’ll follow up with you.

Removing the Stigma of Mental Health

Many people feel uncomfortable talking about mental health. Thanks to a long history of movies, books and news stories, the term “mental illness” may conjure up disturbing images of hallucinating schizophrenics, mass shootings and psychotic serial killers.Psycho movie image

The reality of mental health disorders is very different. In fact, these issues touch many of us:

  • One in five Americans is diagnosed with a mental health issue each year.
  • More than 40 million Americans live with depression.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24.
  • Drug overdoses are the number one killer of Americans under the age of 50.

Despite these startling and far-reaching statistics, mental health issues continue to be seen as a source of shame and something to be kept quiet and out of public view. demi lovatoHundreds of celebrities have opened up and shared their personal battles with depression and other serious mental health issues – from singer Demi Lovato to swimmer Michael Phelps to actor Leonardo DiCaprio – and this has shined a much-needed light on the subject. Still, the stigma around mental health remainsleonardo dicaprio

For employers, mental health issues are a major drag on productivity and driver of healthcare expense. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States, and the CDC estimates it’s also the cause of 200 million lost work days per year, costing employers $44 billion in lost productivity. Compounding the problem is the common co-existence of medical and behavioral health disorders:

  • 68% of adults with a mental disorder have at least one medical disorder
  • 29% of adults with a medical disorder have at least one mental health disorder

Why don’t employees seek help? According to Suzanne Delbanco in How Employers Can View Mental Health Stigma, employees may be afraid to admit, even to themselves, that they need support with mental health. Or they may not be aware that their suffering may be due to anxiety or depression. Those who do recognize the need for treatment may be afraid to leave the office for therapy appointments lest co-workers or employers notice. Many fear, if their employer finds out they have a mental health condition, there may be negative repercussions. A 2017 survey shows that 31% of employees say they would be afraid of being labeled as weak, and 22% fear it would impact their opportunities for promotion.

Employers can play a major role in removing the stigma of mental health issues and it’s in their best interest to do so. Here’s what we’ve seen work:

  1. 97% of large companies (over 5,000 employees), as well as an estimated 75-80% of mid sized and smaller companies, have an Employee Assistance Program. Your EAP is the most powerful weapon in your arsenal to combat mental health stigma and increase employee access to help. This is certainly the case if you have a comprehensive EAP, but is unlikely to be true with a “free” EAP. So-called “free” EAPs embedded in disability insurance products generally provide an EAP in name only; their business model only works if employee engagement is minimized, so they will be unlikely to serve any meaningful role in creating employee engagement.
  1. Awareness and education are critically important. Your EAP should be very willing and adept in helping to build awareness and educate your employees. Initiatives we’ve seen work include:
  • Hosting lunch and learns and guest speakers on behavioral health topics in the workplace
  • Offering a monthly topical webinar for employers to use to educate their employees and normalize behavioral health issues
  • Providing educational newsletters.
  • Providing special presentations to educate managers and supervisors about key mental health issues: mental health first aid, suicide prevention, PTSD awareness and substance abuse (including the opioid epidemic)
  1. Promote awareness of the EAP and easy access to behavioral health treatment services at company benefit fairs.
  1. Create a culture of acceptance. For example, when speaking to employees about medical benefits, include behavioral benefits and issues in the conversation, thereby normalizing behavioral health. Also, incorporate language in company policies to prevent stereotyping and eliminate improper language/ labeling or bullying of employees with behavioral health challenges.
  1. Provide access to an Interactive Screening Program allowing employees to anonymously take a screening test for stress, depression and anxiety. Then, if they wish, they can dialogue with a behavioral health professional to understand their screening results and, if needed, connect them to the appropriate form of assistance – a therapist, psychiatrist, treatment program or self-help or support group.
  1. Develop a Peer Support Program to train employees to assist distressed employees and encourage them to access professional behavioral health services.
  1. Larger companies should consider placing behavioral health clinicians on-site at workplaces to assess, refer and provide short-term counseling. A 2015 survey by the The National Association of Worksite Health Centers claims that 45% of all employers offer some sort of on-site health clinic. Adding a behavioral health clinician to an on-site clinic is a natural wellness extension and further helps normalize the concept of mental health. If you’ve ever watched the popular Showtime series Billions, you’ve seen one of the main characters serving as the on-site therapist for fictional company, Axe Capital.
  1. As behavioral health professionals, let your EAP help you draft policies that permit employees to leave work to keep behavioral health or EAP appointments. Structure benefits and policies with the awareness that many areas are underserved in terms of psychiatrists, and alternatives to psychiatry may be needed.

Employers can make a big difference in encouraging and enabling employees with mental health issues to seek help.  We suggest this is the perfect time to start.

Five Steps to A More Effective EAP

You made a smart decision. You researched comprehensive EAP (Employee Assistance Program) plans and now you’re interviewing providers in order to offer your employees a host of customized behavioral health services as a valuable new component of your benefits package. Of course, your motives are not entirely selfless. You understand that a customized EAP plan from a specialty provider can decrease absenteeism, increase productivity and lead to a happier, more loyal workforce.

Now that you’re ready to offer your employees all these wonderful, helpful tools and services, how do you make sure your employees take advantage of them? We offer five suggestions:

Build Awareness and Education

If you need to communicate a small process change, a mass company email might be sufficient. But to increase awareness of a major new benefit – or to make it part of your employee onboarding process – something more thorough and intimate is required. Furthermore, most of your employees know very little about an EAP or all it has to offer, so education is as important as awareness. Consider the following:

  • Team or department meetings
  • Company lunch and learns
  • Develop easy-to-understand collateral
  • Develop an ongoing internal marketing program
  • Designate a subject matter expert to answer questions (typically a member of your HR team)

It’s important to keep in mind that increasing awareness requires more than a one-time attempt. You need to be sure that you’re reaching employees with the right message and with enough frequency that they’ve internalized it and remember it. Think of it like an ad on TV. If you’ve only seen the ad once you’re not likely to remember it. It’s only after seeing the ad several times that you remember the message.

Of course, if your EAP provider is a good partner, you won’t have to go it alone. They should be providing marketing materials, contributing ideas and working with you hand-in-hand to help you develop the right communication plan.

Make It Easy 

A comprehensive EAP plan has dozens of benefits and offerings, including multiple methods of reaching out for help. This could cause first-time users to be too confused, overwhelmed or apprehensive to dive in. That, of course, defeats the purpose of any EAP – employees must be able to take advantage of the services they need without needless barriers.

Make sure you find an EAP provider that can customize your plan to your employees and company, so you’re not offering nonessential or extra services. They should also help ensure the products and services are presented clearly and accessed easily. Don’t complicate things; if an employee needs help, it should be as simple as texting, making a phone call or sending an email.

Address Privacy Concerns

Make sure employees know that their information is secure and won’t be shared. Because EAPs can deal with issues involving mental or behavioral health, personal finances and/or legal issues, employers must be aware of confidentiality and legal concerns surrounding those services and communicate how each employee’s interaction with the EAP will remain completely private.

In fact, Federal law requires confidentiality of alcohol and drug abuse records, for example, and there are penalties for unlawful or unauthorized release of information. These same regulations also prohibit the implicit or negative disclosure of information to anyone in the company besides the HR department. EAPs – or the companies that offer them – are simply not allowed to release any information without signed consent, regardless of the nature of the problem.

According to The Society for Human Resource Management, employees are more likely to use your EAP services if they understand this use will be strictly confidential. Additionally, if they fear using the EAP for certain services will have a negative impact on their careers, no one will participate.

Our advice: Be strict about confidentiality and communicate that policy clearly to your employees.

Address Behavioral Health Stigma

Another reason some employees may not take advantage of all the services in your EAP is the stigma of mental or behavioral health issues. The Mayo Clinic’s website calls stigma “a negative judgment based on a personal trait; in this case, having a mental health condition.” This stigma and accompanying discrimination are linked to outdated beliefs that mental illnesses don’t have the same biological foundation as physical issues, plus repeated media depictions of people with mental illness as being dangerous and unstable.

In an article from Psychology Today, Graham C.L. Davey Ph.D. points out the widespread nature of these depictions. “People tend to hold these negative beliefs about mental health problems regardless of their age, regardless of what knowledge they have of mental health problems and regardless of whether they know someone who has a mental health problem.”

Removing the stigma is no simple task. It would require the reversal of centuries of ignorant and prejudicial thought and actions. A cultural change is needed. Employers can’t drive this type of change alone, but they should have an interest in playing an important role in driving change.

Employers can start by providing a forum for open discussion. One idea is to bring in a behavioral health professional to talk about the facts, dispel misconceptions and to discuss the bravery and benefits of seeking help. The primary goal of such an event is to give each employee the confidence to get help when they need it without fear of professional or personal repercussions. Another idea is to be sure when messaging employees about physical health or well-being that you include emotional/psychological health messages, as well.

Tell the Whole Story

As long as you have a comprehensive plan, you need to make sure you tell your employees the whole story. Don’t overly focus on just the serious behavioral health issues like substance abuse; communicate the full breadth of services your EAP provides, which may include:

  • Financial consultations
  • Legal consultations
  • Eldercare and/or childcare referrals
  • Identity theft recovery
  • Professional development
  • And many more

Learn More

Want to know if you have the right EAP for your company or learn more about increasing employee engagement in your EAP? Click here and we’ll be happy to help or call Espyr at 866-570-3479.