Employees depend on their employers for healthcare, but employers increasingly fail to hold up their end of the deal when it comes to mental health.

According to research from Milliman, most employer-sponsored health plans do not cover mental health to the same degree they cover physical maladies. The research revealed something much more troubling. Employer-sponsored health plans don't just fail to provide adequate mental health coverage -- the disparities are growing wider instead of shrinking.

Employees in 2020 who want more mental health support deserve an improving healthcare ecosystem, not a deteriorating one. Reasons for disparities in coverage vary from one provider and company to the next, but employers who value their employees' well-being can't afford to make excuses. People need care for their minds as much as they need care for their bodies, and it's up to employers to bridge the gap.

If you'd like to do more for your employees but aren't sure where to begin, check out these helpful tips on how to get your mental health wellness program up to snuff.

1. Get a health insurance provider with robust mental health options.

This is step two, right after providing competitive salaries that allow employees to meet their needs without unnecessary financial stress. Mental health issues like anxiety attacks or even just regular burnout can arise just as easily as a broken leg or the flu. Not all health insurance plans offer mental health coverage, so be diligent during plan selection.

Look for providers with forward-thinking policies. Some health insurance plans cover telemedicine, even for therapy, which can make a massive difference for people who feel overwhelmed by the challenge of finding a local doctor. 

2. Offer PTO for sick leave and encourage mental health days.

Burned out employees help no one. People today may feel more comfortable taking mental health days, but not many workers are bold enough to call in depressed on a Wednesday morning. Instead of contributing to the problem, join the vanguard of the solution by encouraging employees to take mental health days when they need them. 

How you set up your PTO policy determines how you should encourage employees to take mental health days. Unlimited PTO policies, while generous, don't always work out as intended. Employees need more than opportunity -- they need permission. Set the expectation that everyone will take some mental health days and take a few yourself to set the example.

3. Embrace and educate on alternative help.

Not everyone with mental health struggles needs a full-scale treatment plan. Many employees simply need a little breathing room. Give them the space and resources to unwind by listening to your team and providing the small day-to-day benefits that could make a big impact.

For example, some team members may take CBD gummies to ward off anxiety and stress. Keep a few on hand so people can see their employer understands their needs and wants to help. If you have extra room, set up a meditation area. If you don't have room, let employees use their gym membership stipend to sign up for meditation or yoga classes. People handle mental health issues in different ways, so be flexible in how you offer assistance.

4. Facilitate community wellness through activities.

While many mental health issues require attention from professionals, positive social interactions can provide plenty of help on their own. Create opportunities for employees to engage with one another and with the community. Not only do group activities alleviate issues like loneliness, but they also help team members bond with one another beyond the confines of the office.

Help employees find opportunities to volunteer together for local organizations. Provide some financial assistance if employees want to buy t-shirts and sign up for a team 5k. Investing in camaraderie costs little and can pay major dividends when employees feel more comfortable with one another.

People who struggle with mental health issues deserve the freedom and opportunities to tackle their challenges with the support of their friends, families, and employers. Give your team the resources they need to be their best selves. If you treat people well, they will return the favor many times over.