Mental health word cloud To actas a first line of defense, employers must consider evidence-basedapproaches to support their employees' mental health. (Photo:Shutterstock)

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Recent coverage by The Washington Post cited data from the U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics pointing to an 11 percent uptick in therate of suicides in the workplace. Given the increased attention tothe growing demands on employees in today's always-on,technology-enabled work mentality, these numbers do not come as acomplete shock. What's more surprising is that many Americanemployers simply aren't fully considering their role in suicideprevention.

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Employers — not just health care plans and providers — are acritical front-line defense for at-risk workers who may deal withanything from work-related stress to a debilitating mental healthcondition. And while more companies are adopting employee mentalhealth programs and technologies, the question remains whetherthey're selecting the right ones.

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Related: What every HR exec needs to know about suicide inthe workplace

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As organizations consider the mental health challenges facingtheir workforce, they are being force-fed a variety of emergingapproaches that are supposed to be fast fixes. Whether it's a newtech-based program focused on meditation or access to a clinicianvia text, many app-based approaches lack evidence and data to provethat they help people effectively manage serious mental health issues — includingsuicidality.

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Investing in evidence-based mental health care

To act as a first line of defense, employers must considerevidence-based approaches to support their employees' mentalhealth. Research shows that evidence-based therapies such ascognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) andinterpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) can reduce suicidal ideation.Lyra Health's own review of 233 clients who reported suicidality atbaseline over the course of a year supports this. Withevidence-based treatment, more than 70 percent of those treatedexperienced clinical improvement in their depression symptoms andhad no suicidal ideation at follow-up. Unfortunately, manyemployers don't even know what evidence-based mental health care isand/or how to find it and offer it to employees.

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More specifically, evidence-based therapies (EBTs) are thosethat have been rigorously tested in randomized controlled trials ora series of case studies and proven effective or superior toexisting treatments. Some examples of EBTs include cognitivebehavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, and behavioralactivation. These empirically supported treatments represent thebest opportunity to help most people with behavioral healthproblems.

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Recently, our own clinicians surveyed several hundred therapyproviders in a major health insurance network. The study revealed an alarming number of providerswho are failing to provide evidence-based care. The fact that manytherapy providers within this major health care network were foundto not be practicing EBTs is worrisome. What's more, the same studyfound that many in-network therapists were instead practicingtherapies that are not backed by evidence — and worse — that mayactually harm clients. Some examples of psychotherapies thatresearchers have identified as potentially harmful include Jungiansandplay therapy, thought field therapy, and past life therapy.

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Suffice it to say, as employers consider new options forsupporting their workforce's mental health care, evidence-basedtherapies must be a top priority.

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Offering personalized, specialized mental health care drivesimpact

To further support suicide prevention efforts, employers shouldconsider the advantages of extending personalized and specializedmental health benefits not only to employees, but also to theirdependents. Mental health issues plague far more people thanemployers may realize — including children.

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According to another recent Washington Post article, teen suicides haveincreased at an alarming pace — surpassing all other age groups.From 2007 to 2017, the suicide rate among people ages 10 to 24 rose56 percent, the article states. In fact, suicide has become thesecond-most common cause of death among teens and young adults.

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This disturbing trend is further reinforced by a recent study published in the Journal of the AmericanMedical Association that revealed a 30 percent increase in suicidesin the U.S. across all age groups between 2000 and 2016. Thesecollective findings indicate a clear and urgent need for employersto extend mental health benefits not only to employees, but also totheir children. More so, mental health care should be bothpersonalized and specialized for children in order to drivemeaningful improvement.

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Lastly, employers must realize that addressing mental health inthe workplace is not a one-and-done approach. It takes time,energy, creativity, and a truly holistic approach to implement amental health program that meets the needs of a diverse workforce.Things like manager training, a culture of openness around mentalhealth, and benefits that reduce stress such as paid family leavemust be considered as part of an overarching mental health programaimed at supporting the most at-risk employees — as well as thosedealing with shorter-term mental health issues.

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While there are well-documented financial benefits to employersproviding mental health benefits, the human benefits — such asimproved quality of life for employees and their families, not tomention lives saved — are incalculable. As any good business leaderknows, people are a company's greatest asset. Together, employers,health care leaders, and mental health advocates can work to haltthe growing epidemic of suicides and other serious mental healthchallenges our nation faces.

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Connie Chen is chief medicalofficer at Lyra Health, a flagship mental healthbenefits provider serving companies like uber, Genentech, andeBay.

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