Workplace mental health benefits can reduce sick days, increase productivity—and even provide savings for employers

June 9, 2022, 3:00 PM UTC
Woman sitting on floor with laptop on her lap
A new study shows that comprehensive digital-first mental health benefits can improve workers' health and their companies' bottom lines.
AnnaStills—Getty Images

Mental health benefits are proving not only clinically effective, but financially beneficial for employers. 

Two-thirds of Americans, 66%, have experienced some anxiety- or depression-related symptoms over the last six months, according to a recent Fortune survey conducted by the Harris Poll at the end of May. 

And roughly three in 10 Americans say their overall mental health has been worse since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020. About 38% specifically call out higher stress levels, while 28% report worsening depression. 

The effects of mental health issues, particularly depression, can be extensive—not only for patients, but for their families and even employers. Workers with ongoing depression are typically 35% less productive. Plus the cost of absenteeism, reduced productivity, and medical expenses related to ongoing and unresolved depression totals an estimated $210.5 billion per year, according to data from the American Psychiatric Association.

Since the start of the pandemic, many employers have boosted their mental health support offerings as millions of Americans face increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout. But there was some question on whether these programs actually yielded results. 

New research published Thursday finds that employer-sponsored behavioral health programs do actually help move the needle in a positive direction. Researchers at Spring Health conducted a three-year study using data from 1,132 employees at 66 employers across 40 states. 

The study, published in JAMA Network Open, found that a comprehensive, employer-sponsored online mental health benefit results in 25% fewer missed work days and a 24% increase in productivity. Nearly 70% of the Spring Health users evaluated reported a reliable improvement in their mental health, and it only took an average of 5.9 weeks for patients to enter remission of their symptoms. 

“It’s really important that we take the validation seriously. I think that mental health sometimes, it’s like a feel-good thing, but the reality on the ground is pretty different. People have pretty serious problems,” Adam Chekroud, cofounder and president of Spring Health, tells Fortune

The study specifically evaluated Spring Health’s platform, which includes a digital mental health screening, telephone and video appointments, on-demand digital self-help tools, and free or low-cost access to video or in-person psychotherapy and medication management. 

In addition to the health and productivity benefits, the study revealed that mental health benefits improve retention for employers: Spring Health users were 1.6 times less likely to leave their job. 

But what about the cost? A program like Spring Health, for example, can range from $3–$4 per worker per month at larger corporations to $12–$13 for smaller employers. The mental health platform has partnered with a number of major employers, including General Mills, BlackRock, Whole Foods, and Equinox.

The study found, however, that employers reap an average of more than $7,000 in estimated workplace productivity savings per participant within the first six months. “Employers will make money, even on a workforce that is entirely federal minimum wage. And so it’s really opening up the opportunity for companies to invest in mental health,” Chekroud says. 

While the study published Thursday is specifically based on Spring Health’s approach, there is a potential for a ripple effect among other mental health providers. “I really hope that it encourages employers to take mental health seriously and sponsor real solutions that will give their employees fast access to care,” Chekroud says, adding that he also hopes the study raises the bar for others offering services in this space.

Sign up for the Fortune Features email list so you don’t miss our biggest features, exclusive interviews, and investigations.