Since the “Workplace Wellness” concept took hold in the 1970’s, employers have endeavored to contain costs and maintain productivity largely through a focus on physical health.  And that remains the focus today with hypertension, heart failure, diabetes management and prevention, cholesterol, and weight management at the top of employers’ health concerns.  Behavioral health ranks a distant seventh place, with just 33% of large employers categorizing it as “very important.”

But are we treating causes or effects?

It will not surprise that stress and depression tend to worsen the severity of other health issues.  Diabetics with depression cost $2,000 to $3,000 more each year than those without, and individuals with symptomatic depression cost a staggering additional $5,000.

There are a dizzying number of solutions to address employee health.  With an estimated 300,000 apps and a projected marketplace of $234.5 billion in 2023, the space has exploded, likely because many of these initiatives are working: well-designed workplace wellness programs return $2.73 for every dollar spent.

Unfortunately, the vast universe of available options is confusing for both employers and employees.  Learning to build integrated solutions with personalized guidance is essential for success, as is considering the primary drivers of stress and mental health issues.

Depression is already the leading the cause of productivity loss due to presenteeism, costing more than 2.3 times the next closest issue (low back pain).  Yet it is rarely screened for and only a small percentage of people with symptoms even contact a medical professional.  In fact, the Integrated Benefits Institute points out depression screenings as one the greatest opportunities for savings.

Mental health disorders rank #4 on the list of costliest conditions in the U.S.  Employers who address not just the symptoms, but also the causes of these issues will find a greater return on their investment.  Asking how to reduce stress, create opportunities for productive rest, empower mindfulness, and—most importantly—how you can help your people experience personal progress and security will differentiate among those who are treating symptoms and those who are preventing problems.