The issue: El Paso County isn’t great when it comes to mental health.

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What we think: Mental health impacts business too, and employers play a role in healing.

While El Paso County and Colorado Springs have made national headlines for great things in the recent past, many of their citizens — from adolescents to working professionals — carry heavy burdens that are often invisible to or ignored by their peers. Data show that the county’s suicide rate for those under the age of 18 doubled between 2012-2017. In Colorado, suicide is the second leading cause of death for those ages 15-44. Our county’s high number of current or former service members means we have a large population facing post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues due to ongoing wars half a world away.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, someone takes his or her own life in Colorado once every seven hours — more than three a day.

More mental health professionals, educational programs and facilities are needed to curtail what is obviously a growing problem. And the problem goes beyond the home, also impacting our business community.

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The American Psychiatric Association Foundation’s Center for Workplace Mental Health says one in five adults will experience a diagnosable mental illness in any given year.

The foundation offers a “Depression Calculator” to determine how much poor mental health could cost your business.

Depression, according to the foundation, impacts more than 16 million Americans “and is the leading cause of disability worldwide, costing the U.S. economy $210.5 billion per year in absenteeism, reduced productivity and medical costs.”

But treatment works, the foundation says.

“With basic medical coverage,” it says at, “you can expect, on average, 45 percent of your employees affected by depression to be diagnosed and willing to seek treatment, reducing absenteeism by 21 percent and [increasing] presenteeism by 20 percent.”

Employers can make an impact by promoting awareness and intervening early by “investing in workplace programs that reduce stigma and encourage employees to seek help when they need it… .”

Employers can also improve the quality of care. Many employees receive mental health treatment through primary care.

“A concerted effort is underway to improve treatment outcomes through widespread adoption of the Collaborative Care Model,” the foundation says. “Make sure your health plan is reimbursing for Collaborative Care services, including screening, care management and psychiatric consultation.” says collaborative care can reduce workplace absenteeism by 39 percent (compared to 21 percent for basic medical care), and increase workplace presenteeism by 29 percent (compared to 20 percent for basic medical care).

Finally, ensure your health plan complies with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.

“When employees are experiencing depression, getting access to effective care helps them get better and return to optimal work performance,” the foundation says. “Your health plan’s network should include an adequate network of psychiatrists to meet the needs of enrollees, which is not currently true for many health plans.”

Much like the primary care physician shortage, however, the region does not have an adequate number of mental health care providers to meet the need, partly due to low reimbursement rates for psychiatrists, which are well below rates paid to other physicians for comparable services.

The numbers don’t lie — El Paso County isn’t the best when it comes to addressing mental health. But consider this: More than 80 percent of employees treated for mental illness report improved levels of work efficacy and satisfaction, the foundation states.

“And it’s cost-effective. When employees receive effective treatment for mental illnesses, the result is lower total medical costs, increased productivity, lower absenteeism and decreased disability costs,” it says at “The bottom line: Investing in a mentally healthy workforce is good for business.”