Even today, there are many myths and misunderstandings around employee assistance programs (EAP). To understand some of this confusion, it's helpful to look back at their roots.

EAPs were initially launched in the late 1930s. As the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) movement begin spreading throughout the U.S. around the same time, workers shared their experiences with colleagues, leading to further spread of EAPs. They further caught on after World War II to help returning veterans who were struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. 

Since then, EAPs have grown to offer support for challenges individuals may face in their professional and personal lives through a combination of psychology and human resources. The safeguards between employee, employer and EAP have also been strengthened, ensuring workers and their families have full privacy in the counsel they seek.

Yet the usage rate for EAPs have averaged below 10 percent for years, according to various studies. Less than three years ago, the National Business Group on Health found that the average use was 5.5%. That means close to 95% of employees have been missing out on a range of support programs that could change, or even save, their lives. 

However, there is still a great deal of confusion that may be holding employees back from fully taking advantage of their EAP. 

Reason #1: You're not aware that you have an EAP benefit. 

EAP programs are most successful when advocates believe in the programs and regularly speak to employees about the offerings and benefits. Organizations need to have EAP advocates that will send out materials and positively promote the program. The more information there is about the program, the easier time employees will have reaching out to learn more and seek support. 

First Choice Health's EAP team helps companies promote and communicate every detail about the EAP, so its visibility is maximized and any potential confusion or questions about how to use the program are avoided. Whether it's through monthly newsletters, internal communications or any other type of marketing materials, we're here to help make this as easy as possible for your team.

Reason #2: You're not aware of the wide range of services that your EAP offers.

EAPs cover a very wide range of issues that may be affecting employees and their performance at work. These typically include:

  • marital, financial or emotional problems;
  • drug or alcohol abuse; 
  • various family-related issues;
  • financial advice (including tax preparation);
  • basic legal assistance and referrals;
  • adoption assistance;
  • help finding elder care services;
  • a variety of wellness programs;
  • and more

Discounts on services are also available, such as Pet Health Insurance and Calm Meditation App. Whatever problem an employee or family member may be experiencing, an EAP can likely provide help in some way.

Reason #3: You didn't know that spouses, partners, and dependents can also use your EAP.

Many people are surprised to learn that their EAP covers their partner and children through the age of 26 at no cost to their family. For example, if your child has been acting depressed and you'd like to seek counseling for them, EAPs can provide a safe and easy solution to address this. Similarly, they can be helpful if your spouse's parent just passed away and they are in need of ways to help process their grief.

Reason #4: You are concerned about your privacy.

Nothing is more important to EAP teams than confidentiality, and our team has a strict system in place to protect that right. While employees may have concerns that their manager and colleagues will find out they are participating in a program, First Choice Health's EAP does not disclose any information unless the client is a serious threat to themselves or others or reports a child for elder abuse.  

Reason #5: You don't think that mental health support can be useful.

Although personal and behavioral health struggles are common throughout the United States, there is still a cultural stigma-or shame-associated with seeking support. First Choice Health uses the term "coaching" to describe the way it supports employees in breaking down barriers related to mental health. 

These are stressful times with anxiety and depression on the rise. A nationwide survey conducted by the CDC during the in June 2020 found that more than 10% of respondents said they have seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days, compared to just over 4% who said the same thing in 2018. The data also flags a surge of anxiety and substance abuse, with more than 40% of those surveyed saying they've experienced mental or behavioral health conditions connected to COVID-19.  Additionally, a recent study in JAMA Psychiatry found that suicides among Black workers doubled during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Studies have clearly shown that EAPs are having a positive effect on Americans. One study from 2017 found that EAP services led to a 46% improvement in absenteeism and a 22% improvement in life satisfaction, along with other positive trends. 

Reason #6: You don't feel comfortable asking for help, due to the perceived mental health stigma.

Sometimes seeking help is easier said than done. Getting past the hurdle of that initial step can be half the battle for those seeking help; even if no one at their company finds out, do they want to risk viewing themselves as "crazy" or "weak"?

"Many people feel embarrassed or ashamed of their symptoms because our society places illogical taboos on mental health issues over physical conditions," clinical psychologist Nikki Massey-Hastings, PsyD, told PsychCentral.

What anyone who has either treated behavioral health concerns or faced struggles themselves will tell you is that it seeking help is strength, rather than weakness.

Reason #7: You're too busy to meet with a counselor.

Today's technology means that virtual therapy is now more widely available than ever before. You can reach out any day of the week, any time of day, from wherever you might be, using your smart phone or other device. Texting or scheduled video calls make confidential communication slide easily into your schedule.

If you find that virtual therapy isn't a good fit for you, just reach out to your EAP to find an in-person provider that best suits your needs. 

In our fast-changing world, First Choice Health is always striving to expand our employee benefits to better support those we serve, whether that means helping in person or via virtual health. Members can meet with a therapist for different issues throughout the year, such as work stress in February and then a difficult break-up in September.

First Choice Health is here to support our members, who are encouraged to call us 24/7 at (800) 777-4114 for additional support and resources. We provide virtual counseling, stress training, mental health assessments, webinars, health videos and more. 

Posted In:  EAP

About Craig Nelson

Craig Nelson is a Clinical Account Executive for First Choice Health EAP. He is well-known and respected in the EAP field and has served on the Board of Directors for the Pacific NW Chapter of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA). Craig is a Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHC), a Certified Employee Assistance Professional (CEAP), a Senior Professional in Human Resource (SPHR) and a SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP).