Editor’s note: Louise Murphy, head of Aetna Behavioral Health, is speaking on the third day of the Campaign to Change Direction’s “Global Summit on Mental Health Culture Change,” which is taking place May 1 through May 3, 2017.
In the United States, about 1 in 5 adults lives with a mental health condition, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. If left untreated, mental illnesses can lead to emotional suffering, loss of productivity, unemployment, poverty, homelessness, substance use disorders, crime, incarceration, domestic violence and suicide.
Why then, do so many suffer in silence?
All too often, stigma and shame of getting treatment stand in the way of someone reaching out and getting the help they need. We need speak up and speak out for mental health. And, it starts with changing the culture.
Today, Aetna will participate in a panel discussion during the “Global Summit on Mental Health Culture Change” in Los Angeles, California, sponsored by the Campaign to Change Direction, of which Aetna is a founding member. The goal of the Summit is to create a strategy to eradicate the fear, shame and guilt that prevents those who are suffering from receiving care.
According to a recent Gallup survey, salaried employees in America today work, on average, about 50 hours per week. Considering the time spent at work, it’s clear that employers have the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in positively influencing the direction of the total health and wellness of their employees.
Frankly, companies can’t afford to sit on the sidelines. Mental health disorders are among the leading causes of ill-health and disability in the world, and serious mental illnesses (for example depression or bipolar disorder) lead to $193 billion a year in lost earnings. Failing to receive help for stress, anxiety, relationships, caregiving and financial concerns leads to increased workplace absenteeism, working while sick and a rise in overall medical costs.
Aetna has had a history of being a leader and speaking up on tough issues in the health care space, but it’s not just talk—we are making a significant commitment to driving necessary change. We are deeply committed to creating a work environment that values our employees and promotes respect, open communication, a sense of belonging and emotional well-being.
We regularly feature engaging campaigns for mental health wellbeing in the same way we do as an enterprise for physical health and wellbeing because we believe that with positive talk, we can bring positive change and begin to normalize the topic of mental illness.
In March 2017, Aetna Behavioral Health and Aetna’s Office of Workplace Culture, Diversity & Inclusion partnered with Theaterworks in Hartford, Connecticut, to host a panel discussion on the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play, “Next to Normal.” The story features a family dealing with mental illness, as the mother has been battling bipolar disorder for 16 years. The goal of the panel was to promote dialogue on the profound impact of mental illness.
We also offer resources and tools for employees. Aetna Resources for LivingSM , our employee assistance program, offers traditional short-term counseling services, work life support and behavioral health expertise. Aetna is also highly active in the Mental Health First Aid program, which is available to all employees. The program provides the necessary tools, language and support to aid someone in supporting someone who is in crisis or needs help for a mental or emotional issue. The company also has an employee resource group called, “Aetnabilities,” which focuses on raising awareness of visible and invisible disabilities, further raising awareness about the inward struggles that some may face.
In honor of Mental Health Month, we need to come together as a society and as professionals to change our corporate cultures in order to remove the barriers that often stand in the way of someone being able to get the help they so desperately need. It’s important that we talk about mental and emotional health more openly at the corporate level.
We must create pathways to recognize the signs of mental illness and provide the tools to support someone who may be suffering. We must hold leaders at all levels of our organizations accountable for inspiring and sustaining a safe and healthy environment. To do this, there must be continual collaboration and problem-solving between all areas of an organization, including human resources, legal and behavioral health subject matter experts.
Aetna believes by making mental health issues more integrated into the fabric of our corporate cultures, we can begin to provide the permission and impetus for employees to access help and deal effectively with their challenges – without the fear of shame or retribution.