Navigating your mental health decisions

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2021 was a landmark year for mental health, with many Americans feeling stress resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic, 1 in 5 US adults were affected by a mental health condition.1 More than half receive no treatment, either from lack of access to resources or a simple unawareness of the resources available to them.1 When you’re struggling with your own mental wellness at work, it can be difficult to make informed well-being decisions and to know where to start. Read on for some tips to help navigate your mental health decisions.

1. Do some quick research: Discover the well-being initiatives offered by your employer

The offerings your employer provides may be more plentiful and more varied than you expect. For instance, some employers offer sleep improvement programs, pediatric-focused mental health support, digital CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) apps, and teletherapy.2

Remember that mental health coverage in your health insurance plan is typically covered at the same amount as physical health coverage. Per the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, if you are provided unlimited doctor visits for a chronic condition like diabetes, then you are also offered unlimited visits for a mental health condition such as depression or schizophrenia.3

Check your company intranet or your description of plan benefits; one or both should include information on behavioral health services or coverage for mental health and anxiety disorders. If you still can’t find a clear answer, ask your HR department or call your insurance company directly.

2. It’s okay to ask for more

If you are struggling with your mental health, searching for an in-network doctor and then waiting for availability can feel like a huge barrier to the wellness resources you need. Good mental health resources should include:

  • Immediate access: You can be matched with mental health providers that are right for you, exercises, or tools to quickly receive the needed support.
  • Personalized care: A wide-reaching network of mental health providers will mean that you will have access to a diverse set of solutions, so you can receive the care you need at various points of your well-being journey.

If your employer doesn’t offer these benefits, it’s okay to ask for them. You may be surprised at how receptive your HR team might be; after all, it’s in your organization’s best interest if you are healthy, productive, and positive at work.

If this larger conversation feels daunting, you can keep it simple and consider the following:

  • Ask your boss for a mental health day to help you manage burnout, get some sleep, do something you love, or just re-center yourself.
  • Ask for a yoga or meditation seminar to be brought into the office. Or request a quiet room within the office (similar to a private mother’s room) to be used for meditation that you can reserve whenever you have a free moment between meetings.
  • Use your vacation time. Most states limit the amount of vacation you can roll over into the next year, requiring your organization to pay out.4 So take the time, even if it simply means a staycation.

3. Resources available outside the workplace

Benefits from your employer don’t have to be your only resource. You can have personalized care that fits your situation. Many workplaces may not be able to adequately cover mental health treatment, simply because their plans aren’t supplied with enough in-network mental health providers.

If this is the case with your insurance, other than paying for pricey out-of-pocket treatment, here are some strategies:

  • Seek help at a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). FQHCs are community-based healthcare centers that are funded by the government.5
  • Reach out to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which has a Monday through Friday helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI.6
  • Call a few local mental health therapists and ask if they would consider working on a sliding scale. If you ask, they might consider providing therapy that will meet your financial need as a service to their patient base and wider community.7

You may also want to consider going virtual. Just as most organizations have incorporated virtual collaboration tools and remote work allowances, there are many virtual apps that offer therapy sessions, such as BetterHelp, Talkspace, ReGain (for couples), and Ayana (for the BIPOC community).8

4. Take some deep breaths: Use meditation and relaxation exercises throughout the day

Meditation is considered a type of mind-body complementary care medicine.9 During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. This process may result in enhanced mental well-being by producing a relaxed and tranquil mind.9

The key with meditation is consistency. A daily meditation practice is what makes it effective. It doesn’t have to be perfect; you don’t need a meditation studio, a special pillow, or incense. Meditation can take place wherever you are. Try ten minutes when you’re still in bed in the morning, right before you eat your lunch at the kitchen table, or when you’re sitting still in the grocery store parking lot.

Another tip – you don’t have to do it yourself. You don’t have to set a mantra or guide your own inhalations. There are many apps and wearables in the meditation space – and often free or offered at a minimal monthly subscription rate.

As you navigating the ins and outs of mental wellness, remember that you're not alone. There are a myriad of solutions that might be right for you, so don't forget to go straight to the source. Check with your employer to find out what mental wellness benefits are available to you right now. They may be more easily accessible than you think!

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