Corporate America is slow to accommodate workers with psychiatric illnesses though things are changing
Kanye West doesn’t have All Day.
The rap star is suing his insurer for allegedly dragging their feet on paying out for claims he made after he canceled his “Saint Pablo Tour” for medical reasons, according to The Hollywood Reporter, citing court documents. Kim Kardashian’s husband checked himself into a psychiatric hospital late last year and got a doctor to certify that he wasn’t fit to continue touring, but the $10 million lawsuit filed in a California federal court claims that eight months on, Kanye’s team still hasn’t gotten any indication of whether the insurer will pay.
Most Americans don’t have to worry about the fallout from prematurely ending a blockbuster concert series, but many can identify with struggling at the workplace or with an insurer because of mental health issues. According to a 2013 JAMA Psychiatry article, 29% of patients report having an insurance claim for mental health help denied, more than double the rate of those who suffered from physical maladies. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) claims that the United States economy loses $200 billion annually to untreated psychiatric conditions.
But there’s still been improvement from decades ago. A big milestone came in 2008, when President George W. Bush signed into law legislation mandating that insurers treat psychiatric illnesses and substance abuse issues on parity with more conventionally covered illnesses. “We now have protections in law, though there are still gaps in health coverage,” says Kathryn Salisbury, executive vice president at the Mental Health Association of New York City.
Still, having insurance coverage doesn’t necessarily equate to being accommodated at work. “There’s a long history of prejudice against people with mental illness equated to an inability to perform their jobs,” says Salisbury, adding that this often results in people refusing to share their struggles out of fear of reprisal. “But that’s not supported by reality. Treatment works. You’ll find many people in treatment and performing well.”
Given that about 18.5% of the United States population experiences some sort of psychiatric condition each year, Corporate America is starting to take note. NAMI for instance, has been working with companies like auditors E&Y, fashion designer Kenneth Cole and Fox Sports to create so-called stigma free workplaces (Fox Sports shares common ownership with Moneyish publisher Dow Jones.)
“Companies should look at what their culture is and see how [these initiatives] fit in and begin to expand them,” says Katrina Gay, national director of strategic partnerships at NAMI. Her organization’s advice generally involves education programs that encourage employees to separate the illness from the person and having regular external speakers weigh in on what psychiatric health issues can entail.
And even if you don’t work in a progressive workplace, it may be worth reaching out to a friendly colleague or an outside advocacy group. “Situation is more stressful but ask ‘what’s available to me? What kind of resilience do I have?’” says Gay. “Work is vital to all of us, but there may be support outside.”
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