Culturally Competent Treatment for Employees With a Mental Illness

An invite for a future webinar hit my inbox recently. The webinar’s topic focuses on providing culturally competent care for mental illnesses to an increasingly diverse workforce.

Success in the treatment of mental illnesses rests in large part in the nature of the clinical relationship developed between the clinician and the patient/client (in this case an employee). In reality, the development of this relationship is well beyond the role and scope of the employer’s role in the support of treatment for employees experiencing a diagnosable mental illness.

Based on my experience and understanding, it is a rare employer today who contracts directly with a licensed professional mental health clinician to provide treatment related services to employees. Most employers who provide treatment related benefits to employees do so through a contract with a behavioral health insurer or EAP provider or both who then provide the needed treatment services. It is the vendor who actually contracts with the licensed mental health professional. The professionals vetted and contracted by the vendor are then offered to the employer as part of a panel of providers who can provide services to employees.

In this service delivery model, it is the vendor, not the employer, who should be vetting the cultural competence of the clinicians included in the vendor’s panel of treatment providers. At best, any employer using a vendor model can and probably should ask how the vendor vets the culture competence of their clinicians.

When it comes to workplace mental health, we need to remember that addressing mental illness is but one component of a comprehensive workplace mental health model. The wise employer today is actually addressing all three components of workplace mental health: mental wellness, psychosocial distress and mental illness.

For employers who have elected to initiate a comprehensive approach to employee mental health, then yes, the employer needs to make sure both the content and delivery of mental wellness and psychosocial distress interventions and initiatives are sensitive to the employee cultures represented in the workplace. If the content and delivery of mental wellness and psychosocial distress interventions and initiatives have been outsourced to a vendor, then, like for clinicians, the employer needs to be sure that what the vendor offers and who delivers it has been vetted for cultural sensitivity and cultural competence by the vendor.

Each employee culture represented within the organization will likely have their own cultural perspective regarding mental illness, mental wellness and psychosocial distress. Since all employees, by virtue of their being human, will experience a level of mental wellness and psychosocial distress arising from negative and unwanted life events, it is only the cultural perspective of employees that will likely differ.

Being culturally sensitive and culturally competent simply reflects that one approach to workplace mental health fits but one organization or even one workplace within a multi-workplace organization.

There is no question that in today’s workplace environment we need employers to step up their game when it comes to workplace mental health. While focusing on mental illness is important, in order to truly impact the mental health of employees, employers need to also begin addressing mental wellness and psychosocial distress. But as we encourage greater employer involvement, let’s also be careful about what burdens we place on employers who do in fact seek to up level their workplace mental health game.



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William McPeck

William McPeck


Bill McPeck has been involved as a leader and practitioner in employee health, safety, wellness and wellbeing for close to 30 years.