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Perspective: Common Sense on Mental Health Care

Private sector is seeing great ROI; public sector will too if it makes the investment

By Mark Green

Investing more into mental health in the broadest manner will pay off for business, the public sector, industry, taxpayers and our common quality of life. It’s time to put misguided stigmas about behavioral health behind us and propel Kentucky forward.

An informal public-private partnership is the common-sense approach. There may not be another area of common focus that will pay off like this will.

Businesses that have gotten serious about mental health investment for their personnel know it pays off. They should tell their story and encourage others to join them, especially the public sector. Private-sector experience and input will best help our public sector put effective community mental health support in place.

Government and public programs are not profit-and-loss business operations. Their mission is to provide services, maintain guardrails for the private sector, and sometimes enhance our common quality of life. However, taxpayers do rightfully demand benefit for forking over money they work hard to get. We haggle about how much to spend and for what via our political processes. While this will never bring perfect outcomes, it makes us better and drives progress.

It is time to take on mental health with intention and determination. It will bring us better schools and workplaces, lower violence and crime, decrease tragedy and cost, increase productivity and profits, and help in ways we do not currently foresee.

According to a study by Penn State University published in the Review of Regional Studies, employee mental health costs the economy at least as much as physical health.

Organizations that invested in both physical and emotional well-being saw a 5% increase in productivity based on a meta-analysis by the University of California Riverside, with each dollar spent on wellness programs saving $3.27 in healthcare costs and $2.73 in absenteeism costs. And according to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, organizations that addressed physical and mental health experienced reduced absenteeism, reduced presenteeism (people at work but not productive) and increased job performance.

In fact, a study by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that for every dollar spent on programs to reduce work-life time conflicts, organizational costs dropped by $1.68 based on reduced employee turnover, reduced presenteeism and reduced healthcare use.

Our government can’t invest in everything, but investing in community mental health can benefit nearly everything.

Mental health only seems to enter public discussion after tragic events occur and mental illness is blamed as the cause. It is time for public leaders to step forward and for private leaders to speak up in support. They do not need to offer solutions, only the willingness to create policies and structures to move Kentucky toward doing better.

Is one answer adding mental health services to our local health departments? Perhaps. Let’s find out. Begin pushing for improvement.

Kentucky now has resources to make prudent investments. Future Kentuckians who live with more productivity, less conflict, less crime and lower tax burdens will be grateful.