Employer’s screening tools for any kind of mental health issue — if not required by working in a sensitive industry — should be avoided, as they bring little value to you, the employee, that you can’t get elsewhere. And with much less risk to your health privacy and data.
While I’m sure such tools are well-intentioned, the downsides to providing this level of health data directly to your employer (and your insurance company) are still too many. We have not yet come to a point in our society where mental illness is treated just like any health diagnosis.
Employers want to do a better job helping their employees with their mental health. Why? It appears to come down to two things — productivity and team cohesiveness. A person with a mental illness that is undiagnosed or untreated is usually often less productive than other employees, and have more days absent from work. This costs an employer money.
A person with mental illness who’s not being treated also can contribute to a work environment that is less pleasant to work in, decreasing their team’s cohesiveness and impacting the effectiveness and productivity of other employees.
My Mental Health Status: None of My Employer’s Business
Unfortunately, what a lot of employers — and the related companies who offer services in this area — don’t seem to get is that their employees’ mental health is basically none of their business. Just like my health status is none of my employer’s business, neither is my mental health status. If it impacts my productivity or effectiveness, well, that’s an issue an employer should separate out from my mental health issues.
For all the talk of employers offering anonymous services, why should an employee trust it will truly be anonymous? With all of the recent data breaches across both financial and health industries, could such services be trusted to keep your mental health information private and secure? For instance, in utilization reports, if data is broken out in groups and those groups are small enough, it may not be difficult for a supervisor to discern who is utilizing the service.
The biggest problem is when a connection is made — purposely or not — between your using one of these services offered by your employer and your work record. It may not even be a conscious effort, but suddenly that fast-track promotion schedule you were on is slowed down. You may find your boss or supervisor making odd remarks, or allowances in your work that you never asked for. Again, well-meaning but potentially very creepy — and an invasion of your privacy rights.
I don’t turn to my employer to understand if I may have cancer. I ask my doctor.
Singling out mental illness as needing some sort of special treatment by your employer is just another way that they discriminate against folks with a mental health issue. (There are exceptions for certain industries where, if something goes, wrong, the cost can be especially high such as law enforcement, transportation and utilities.)
Solving a Non-Existent Problem
Companies and startups see undiagnosed mental illness in the workplace as a problem — and an opportunity they can help solve. But isn’t it a “problem” that can be readily solved by employees themselves? Why involve employers (and your insurance company) — they aren’t a part of your relationship with your doctor or therapist. Nor should they be.
Today, anyone can already take a mental health screening from us or a dozen other websites. Absolutely free. Conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and ADHD (among does of others — see the full list here) all have screening measures available right now — and without having anything to do with your employer. Best yet, these measures are all free and anonymous.
So what’s the problem? Why would an employee be more likely to take advantage of an employer-sponsored screening test for a mental health problem? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that an employer is in the best position to take on this role. This is a role best filled by a person’s doctor.