November 13, 2019
2 min read

Employee behavioral health programs improve depression, anxiety

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Daniel Maeng

Employer-sponsored behavioral health programs improved depression and anxiety among employees, according to a study results published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Researchers examined the 5-year experience of a large academic employer, the University of Rochester, with implementation of an employer-sponsored behavioral health program. The study period was from Jan. 1, 2014, when the behavioral program began to Aug.15, 2018. The relationship between the frequency of employees’ visits to the employer-sponsored behavioral health clinic and the corresponding changes in their mental health outcomes over time were analyzed.

“We defined ‘dose’ as the frequency of visits in a given period and ‘response’ as more than or equal to 50% improvement in health outcome measures,” Daniel Maeng, PhD, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and colleagues wrote.

Moderate to severe depression or anxiety disorders were defined by elevated scores on the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ9) or the Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD7) scores. Classification of a patient with moderate to severe depression or anxiety disorder at baseline were considered responders if their PHQ9 score fell below 10 or has at least a 50% reduction rate.

“This study finds that higher dose of psychotherapy provided via an employer-sponsored behavioral health program is correlated with improvements in PHQ9 and GAD7 among employees, although there appears to be no incremental benefit beyond a certain level,” Maeng told Healio Psychiatry.

Results showed that on average, a patient in the behavioral health program had approximately two episodes of care and each episode included approximately 11 visits over around a 4-month period. For moderate to severe depression or anxiety disorders, response rates were higher in patients with at least eight to 12 therapy visits with no further improvement after exceeding 12 visits.

The researchers found a correlation between higher number of psychotherapy visits per episode of care among the patients involved in the employer-sponsored behavioral health program and improved behavioral health outcomes. Although, this study shows no incremental benefit to the patients beyond a certain number of visits, which may suggest that further research is needed to identify an optimal treatment intensity that varies by patient and disease severity.

“The most interesting aspect of this study is that more is not necessarily better,” Maeng said. “While the findings do support the hypothesis that the patients who received higher dose did better, there appears to be no incremental benefits associated with additional doses of therapy beyond a certain point. More study is needed to determine exactly where that point is, but this has important implications for designing and refining the program to achieve greater efficiency.” By Erin T. Welsh

Disclosure: Maeng reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the full study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.