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John Doe goes to see a cardiologist because of chest pain.Concerned, his doctor of 20 years issues a series of tests to ruleout a potential heart issue. An EKG and blood work come backnegative, but the devoted doctor calls for stress tests and a CTscan to rule out any potential blockage or damage that could becausing the pain. After a month of trips from the lab to hisdoctor's office, John's doctor tells him that there is nothingwrong with him physically, and then asks if John has beenexperiencing difficulties at work or  home that could becausing him anxiety or stress. John, the proud, hard-working singleprovider for his family of five, doesn't want to discuss thefinancial concerns stemming from the changes at his job that havebeen worrying him for the last eight to ten months. Instead, he'shoping his doctor can “patch him up,” so that he can go back towork, doing what he loves.

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Unfortunately, John's situation is all too common. Althoughdistinct mental health claims like depression and anxiety arecategorized under mental health, when analyzing benefit claimsdata, you may find that stress induced claims such as non-cardiacchest pains, stress related IBS, and migraines are miscategorizedas other diseases.

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This means that many of the examples of neck, shoulder, and lowback pain which are presented under musculoskeletaldisease claims, or stress ulcers which are presented underdigestive system disease claims, for example, are actuallya manifestation of stressful mental health issues, yet mental health isn'tthe focus when searching for the root cause of physical pain.

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The state of our mental health is costing everyone. In theprevious example, John is feeling sick and his worries arecontributing to a lack of focus on the job. His employer is losingproductivity from one of its best employees and is also taking onhuge health care costs because of diagnostic testing.

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Similar to physical health, mental health needs preventativecare. This can take the form of wellness programs aimed at treating problems atthe source and, hopefully, averting any physical symptoms down theroad. The solution is in the data. MetLife's Health & Wellnessteam runs analyses of  global client benefit claims andhas found that mental health can be a leading and often unaddresseddriver of health care costs across global markets.

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The good news is that benefits advisors and providers are in aunique situation to help people like John feel better, whilehelping clients manage their costs and demonstrate to theiremployees that they care about employee well-being. Here are somesteps advisors can take to better position themselves to assisttheir customers in addressing this growing need:

  1. Let the data do the talking. So much can belearned from the claims data about how their employee benefits arebeing used. Encourage your clients to take a hard look at the data.What types of claims are theyseeing? 

The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is a globalmedical coding system which health care providers use whencategorizing claims. Chapter five of the classification systemrelates to mental and behavioral disorders. However, many timesthis chapter fails to include in it the physical manifestations ofmental health conditions that may manifest as stress ulcers,migraines, tension headaches, neck and shoulder pains etc.

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MetLife's Health & Wellness team has discovered that whenhealth care providers can't pinpoint the source of the physicalpain, they may code their claims under Chapter 18, “Symptoms,signs, and abnormal clinical and laboratory findings, not elsewhereclassified.” Essentially, it's the medical world's version of“other.” A closer look at claims data may reveal that manysymptoms which can't be attributed to physical ailments may haveroots in a person's mental health, including issues such assadness, stress, chronic fatigue, changes to eating and sleepinghabits, fear, social withdrawal, and anxiety. The physicalmanifestations of these conditions are commonly bucketed in Chapter18, which could indicate that your client's employees have amental wellness need that has to beaddressed.

  1. Understanding wellness. Clearly, there arediagnosable mental health issues such as depression, bipolardisorder, and schizophrenia, which are categorized as illnesses. Onthe whole however, mental health isn't about specific diseasestates. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is“a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his orher own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, canwork productively and fruitfully, and is able to make acontribution to her or his community.” A goal of anyemployer-sponsored wellness program should be to empower theiremployees to meet this definition of mental health so that theirday-to-day stresses don't manifest themselves as physicalsymptoms.

Wellness and work-life balance initiatives such as fitnessprograms, flexible work arrangements, financial literacy courses,health education, and others which address employee-specificstresses are, essentially, preventative health programs which helpemployees stay healthy and productive. The key to success iscustomization, and MetLife's 16th annual U.S. EmployeeBenefit Trends Study found that employees care enough aboutcustomization to pay. The study found that 83 percent of employeeswould be willing to take a small pay cut in order to have a betterchoice of benefits from their employer. Additionally, 60 percent ofemployees are interested in having their employer provide a widerarray of non-medical benefits that they can choose to pay for ontheir own. Creating a wellness program means asking your client toidentify the concerns that keep their employees up at night andthen tailoring solutions that can address the most commonconcerns.

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For mental health issues specifically, ask clients to take alook at their Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Most of theseprograms are referral systems that provide employees withadditional resources. However, there is an opportunity for the EAPto serve as a mental health hotline (similar to tele-doc andtele-med hotlines) with trained and certified mental healthprofessionals available as counselors and listeners.

  1. Provide access and education. Wellnessprograms aren't beneficial when no one knows they are available.After identifying the need and types of wellness offerings yourclient can provide their employees, help them to understand theimportance of proper communication. All employees should be able totell you:

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    • What type of wellness programs are at the company
    • How does each offering benefit them
    • How the benefits are accessed

Additionally, clear and consistent communication will helpreduce potential stigmatization associated with some programs.Using the employer sponsored gym during your lunch break, forexample, is a lot less taboo than calling up the therapist hotline,which is also sponsored. If the client regularly promotes wellnessbenefits, including services which may carry a stigma, while alsoemphasizing the privacy protections in place and the ease of use,then the awkwardness or fear that might be associated with takingadvantage of these types of offerings can be lessened.

  1. Promoting an inclusive culture. All employeebenefits are aimed at making the lives of employees easier. It's areason they're offered and easy access to benefits and perks iswhat attracts potential employees to our clients.

Advisors are well positioned to encourage clients to considerinclusivity in their wellness offerings. A holistic wellnessprogram that includes mental health awareness and management canthrive when packaged with many other benefits catering to a diverseworkforce. What types of benefit incentives exist for workingparents, for example? For nursing mothers, for members of theLGBTQ community, for expatriate employees, forminority groups, or for employees who have disabilities?

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Investing in wellness programs which address the needs of abroad employee base doesn't have to be expensive, but the value forthe client may translate to improved productivity, increasedemployee loyalty and retention, and happier, healthier employees.This should be everyone's end goal.

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Dr. Leena Johns leads MetLife'sGlobal Employee Benefits Health & Wellness program. As thesubject matter expert on health data analytics, Dr. Johns and herteam collaborate with clients and brokers to provide benefits andwellness recommendations based on in-depth claim analyses.

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