More than half of workers in the United States grapple with mental health issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Angst stemming from difficult relationships, financial worries, stressful job expectations and substance abuse often affects the quality of their work.
Most of these people, however, don’t seek treatment or are unable to access care, according to the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, a nonprofit that represents more than 12,000 employers and purchasers and their 45 million employees.
Johns Hopkins HealthCare Solutions, a business team within Johns Hopkins Medicine, aims to improve those odds through Balance, a program marketed to companies as a benefit to boost employees’ well-being.
Using expertise from the Johns Hopkins Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Balance provides a confidential online risk assessment and access to a “care concierge,” a mental health specialist who can connect employees to company- and community-based care and support.
Quest Diagnostics, a U.S.-based clinical laboratory that offers disease- and drug-testing services, signed on to the program last year. So far, more than 9,000 of its employees have completed the online Balance questionnaire, says Maren Fragala, director of scientific affairs for Quest’s employee health programs.
Although outcomes data are not yet available, “the feedback we’ve gotten from our employees in the survey about Balance has been extremely positive,” says Fragala. “Most are grateful that we are offering this. Managers also like to see that as a company, we continue to make employees a priority — and this is a great example of that — especially now.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, the need for emotional support in the workplace has intensified, says Mark Cochran, executive director of Johns Hopkins HealthCare Solutions. Many employees have either lost loved ones or found themselves afflicted with the disease. Others are adapting to reduced household income and social isolation.
“This unprecedented international crisis is having an impact on every aspect of our lives, including our mental health and well-being,” he says.
A Targeted and Collaborative Approach
Balance is one of the evidence-based products developed and marketed by the HealthCare Solutions team of 30 clinical, business, analytics, marketing and project experts. The group’s mission is to connect the employer and health plan marketplace to innovative Johns Hopkins products, programs and services that improve health outcomes across populations in the U.S. and overseas.
Johns Hopkins psychiatrists Matthew Peters and Paul Kim lead the team’s mental health efforts. The Balance program uses a personalized approach to diagnosis and treatment developed at Johns Hopkins and refined over decades of research and clinical practice. Known as “perspectives,” it provides mental health experts with a thorough understanding of the nature and origin of an individual’s problem by considering a person’s mental health from four perspectives:
- A medical condition, such as major depression or bipolar disorder, which directly affects the brain and disrupts a person’s thinking, emotions and ability to function and relate to others;
- How disposition and personality traits increase the likelihood of a person reacting in a dysfunctional way to certain situations;
- Lifestyle behaviors: how psychological needs influence whether or not a person engages in helpful or harmful behaviors;
- Life story: how a person makes sense of a situation based on their life experiences.
“The things that make us sad, anxious or depressed — and how we deal with them — are based on causes unique to each one of us,” says Peters. “It’s important to recognize that there may be multiple, interconnected causes for these feelings and behaviors.”
Peters, who co-authored the Johns Hopkins POC-IT Guide for Psychiatry, a medication guide for primary care doctors, says that a person’s quality of life often improves with professional guidance.
In the Balance program, employees may qualify for a confidential consultation after their self-assessment. A Balance Care Concierge, a specially trained, licensed practitioner, will talk to them about their evaluation and the kind of support they might require, then help to create an action plan.
Additional resources to boost emotional health, such as how to get a good night’s sleep and how best to exercise regularly, are available on the Balance website.
Buoyed by Success, Gearing Up for Greater Demand
In addition to Quest, Balance is also available to the more than 5,100 employees of The Vitamin Shoppe and the approximately 2,500 employees of Church’s Chicken, both nationwide chains. (At present, Johns Hopkins Medicine does not offer this program to its employees.)
Stuart Sutley, Johns Hopkins HealthCare Solutions’ head of sales and business development, expects to see greater interest in the Balance program because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “As employers contemplate return-to-work strategies,” he says, “getting employees timely access to mental health support is at the top of their list.”