Medical benefit costs are erupting, and now people want employers to establish parity with mental health benefits. Are they out of their minds? Not really. There's an undeniable logic to the proposition that healthy workers are more productive than sick workers and that increased productivity creates competitive advantage. There is also a near certainty that some of your workers suffer from common mental illness. In any given year, about one in 10 American adults suffers from depression. Between six and eight percent of all patients seen in general medical practice are diagnosed as depressed, but — notwithstanding recent reports of a sharp increase in depression treatment — only about a third of patients suffering from clinical depression receive appropriate medication or psychotherapy.
But how can employers know that they are getting good value from mental health benefits? Is there a real productivity gain from effective treatment? Are there potential paybacks in other areas? There is definitely a very large target of opportunity. Mental disorders generate an immense cost burden. According to the World Health Organization, mental illness is on par with heart disease and cancer as a cause of disability. The direct costs of diagnosing and treating mental disorders in the U.S. totaled approximately $71 billion in 1997. Lost productivity and disability insurance accounted for an additional $75 billion