Should Businesses Cover Mental Health Treatments?

04/14/2015 03:06 pm ET | Updated Jun 13, 2015

More and more cases of mental health issues are popping up across the United States. In fact, 15 percent of all diseases in North America are attributed to mental illness, and a large portion of these are due to workplace stressors. Many insurance policies don't cover mental health treatments, but maybe they should. To help businesses determine if they should add this coverage to their employee benefits, here is a general overview of mental health issues in the workplace:

Common Types and Causes of Mental Illness in the Workplace

According to a study published in the Current Psychiatry Reports journal, 10 percent of the general working population report cases of major depression or other emotional illnesses per year. These illnesses lead to significantly reduced efficiencies at work and enhanced disabilities when left untreated.

The most common mental health disorders developed in the workplace include:

  • Major Depressive Disorder (MDD): MDD is characterized by a chronic and persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in things once loved. Though this disorder is mainly genetic, it is most often dormant until stressors, like those that come from the workplace, trigger it. Those with MDD have an extremely difficult time performing basic tasks like showering and eating.
  • Dysthymic Disorder: A more mild form of depression, Dysthymia Disorder is a milder version of chronic depression. Symptoms generally last for a period of two years minimum. Some cases are genetic, but most are brought on by environmental situations, including high levels of stress in the work place.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Also known as winter depression, SAD is a form of depression that occurs at the same time ever year, usually in the winter. The main cause is a lack of vitamin D, which is very common for employees who work in cubicles without windows.
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Most common in those with life-threatening jobs (military personnel, police officers, paramedics, etc.), PTSD is a lasting trauma that results from a particularly difficult experience. Most cases reported state the cause was the patient's occupation. According to this page at, "the rate of co-occurring disorders [with PTSD] is very high. Some studies show that up to 80 percent of those with PTSD have another disorder. Successful PTSD treatment requires treatment of any co-occurring disorders, such as... depression, and anxiety." This leads us to our last point.
  • Depression, Stress and Anxiety: Depression, stress and anxiety are the most common emotional illnesses that develop in the workplace. Disorders associated with these mental illnesses can cause both psychological and physical damage, and those left untreated can decline rapidly. All mental illnesses require treatment for full recovery. Unfortunately, most people won't seek treatment for work-related illnesses if the cost isn't covered by their insurance.
Legislation Supports Mental Health Coverage

Mental health care has not always been a prominent part of health insurance policies. Though many covered it, there were unequal deductibles, copays, and coverage associated with that care. A few steps have been taken to improve that legislation in support of mental health coverage in businesses.

The Affordable Care Act has its downsides and benefits, but one good thing about this act is that it extends coverage for those suffering from mental health issues. The coverage is not all encompassing and every policy will have its own specific guidelines, but it does require those who have taken out insurance plans under this act to cover mental health.

Another important law to acknowledge is the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, more commonly known as the parity law. The parity law requires insurance policies to equalize the coverage for mental health treatments with physical health treatments

Should Businesses Cover Mental Health Treatments?

Despite new research and legislation that supports mental health coverage, many businesses still don't offer mental health coverage in their insurance plans. Though there is currently no law mandating mental health coverage outside of the Affordable Care Act, here are a few reasons that businesses should consider adding mental health treatments to employee benefits:

  • Avoid Lawsuits
"Failure to provide a psychologically safe workplace can lead employees to engage lawyers in pursuit of court settlements," says Ray Williams, a contributor for Psychology Today.  It's true that these cases rarely ever win, but the cost of battling in court will far surpass the cost of providing mental health coverage.
  • More Efficiency
Emotional illnesses, depression, and anxiety reduce productivity by nearly 50 percent in men and nearly 30 percent in women. These effects occur in the early years and remain prevalent throughout their working lives. Those who don't receive treatment for their mental illnesses (and most won't seek it without insurance), contribute significantly to decreased efficiencies and increase unnecessary spending within companies.
  • Peace of Mind
Most people recognize the signs of depression and mental illness, but only about 20 percent of them receive treatment. Approximately 90 percent of people who commit suicide have a mental illness that went untreated at the time of their death, according to Providing mental health insurance is one of the best things businesses can do to prevent suicides in their employees and improve a higher quality of life within society.