September 17, 2020

Employee Mental Health: A New Integrated Approach for COVID and Beyond

By Randi Rosenthal, LCSW, Director of Clinical Operations, Behavioral Health


Six months into the pandemic, with no clear end in sight, employers are searching for ways to protect employee health – not just their physical health, but their emotional well-being and mental health as well. With each passing day of uncertainty, isolation and disruption to our way of life, the level of anxiety, stress and depression is mounting.

So, too, is the challenge facing employers, many of which have already invested in workforce mental health solutions – without seeing desired results. As their people continue to struggle under the immense weight of the pandemic – and major issues like racial injustice and the pending election – organizations are wondering how they can do more to support the emotional and mental health of their workers and control costs at the same time.

Overcoming obstacles: stigma, poor access, fragmentation

It’s going to take a new approach – one that overcomes long-standing obstacles to improving employee mental health. Today, we’re excited to introduce a new integrated mental health offering for employers that addresses these issues head-on.

With Ginger, the leader in on-demand mental healthcare, we’re removing barriers that stand in the way of people getting the mental health support they need when they need it. “Mental Health Integrated Care” , an enhancement to our personalized advocacy solutions, brings together mental and physical healthcare into a single unified patient experience and takes direct aim at common employer and workforce challenges. Here are a few:

  • Stigma and other factors behind low engagement

    One silver lining of the pandemic is the growing willingness to talk about how we’re all doing, but stigma remains a barrier to care. The vast majority of workers who know they need mental health support don’t take steps to get it due to shame and stigma. For instance, utilization of employee assistance programs is typically around 5%. 1

    Accolade gets out ahead of stigma and other factors behind low engagement and utilization, including a lack of employee awareness or understanding about their mental health benefits. We don’t wait for people to overcome barriers and self-refer to programs. Instead we use data and trusted relationships to uncover mental health needs early, and then proactively engage with people to help them understand their options for help, including on-demand virtual mental health coaching, therapy or psychiatry from Ginger.

    At every step, Accolade frontline care teams and Ginger coaches, therapists and psychiatrists are working to reduce stigma and put individuals on the best path to addressing their emotional and mental health needs.

  • Poor access to care

    For people actively looking for mental health care, finding and receiving it in the moment of need is a long-standing challenge that’s getting even harder. Sixty percent of U.S. counties don’t have a single psychiatrist, 2 and the COVID-19 crisis is making the shortage worse every day. The average wait time for a first mental health appointment is an unacceptable 25 days. 3

    What excites me about with this new offering is that people can be connected to mental health care very quickly. Our care teams (Accolade Health Assistants, nurses, and behavioral health clinicians) engage with a member, help them identify their need for mental health support, and prepare them for that care. We then connect them instantly – in less than two minutes with a mental health coach, or within 48 hours with a therapist or psychiatrist from Ginger. Removing the delays and wait for care is so important – not just for those people actively seeking care, but also for individuals who perhaps didn't believe their issues were serious enough to require care. We’re able to get them started in treatment when they’re motivated and open to engaging, which is key to success.

  • Fragmented care

    With a difficult-to-access mental health system, people often turn to their primary care physician for help. Unfortunately, less than 50% of patients referred to mental health services by their physician actually wind up receiving mental health care. 3 This is just one example of how treating physical and mental health separately fails. A lack of ongoing care coordination – which can result in bad care decisions and healthcare waste – is another. 3

    At Accolade, we have always taken a whole-person approach to care, supporting the physical, mental and emotional needs of the people we support. Our frontline care teams work to build trusted relationships and understand everything going on with a member. When an emotional or mental health need is identified, our behavioral health clinicians assess a member’s symptoms, determine the right type of care for them or their loved ones, educate them on their condition and symptoms they may experience and what treatments, including medications, are available. We help them decide what care is right for them – based on evidence-based resources, the benefits offered by their employer, and their individual circumstances and preferences.

    With Ginger, we’re taking this support to the next level. We’re not just ensuring a member accesses mental health care. Instead, at every step of the way, our teams are working to understand the needs of the member and coordinate their care for better health outcomes.

    If a member discontinues mental health treatment, for example, Accolade can re-engage them. If a Ginger psychiatrist identifies a member need for more intense support – or for help with a physical issue – they bring in the Accolade team. In a traditional model, the therapist and psychiatrist don't know where to turn to help someone with finding a primary care doctor or getting lab work needed for psychotropic medications at an in-network lab. By coordinating care at every step, Accolade and Ginger can offer truly integrated, efficient and holistic care.

    The end result? Better health outcomes for people and reduced healthcare costs for employers.

    To learn more, please visit us at


1 Agovino, T., Companies Seek to Boost Low Usage of Employee Assistance Programs, SHRM, Nov 2019.

2 New American Economy, October 2017.

3 M. Malowney, MPH, S. Keltz, D. Fischer, MD, and J. Wesley Boyd, JD, PhD, Availability of Outpatient Care From Psychiatrists: A Simulated-Patient Study in Three U.S. Cities Psychiatric Services 66:1, January 2015