Risk Insider: Terri Rhodes

Mental Health Stigma Increases Costs

By: | June 5, 2017 • 3 min read
Terri L. Rhodes is CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition. Terri was an Absence and Disability Management Consultant for Mercer, and also served as Director of Absence and Disability for Health Net and Corporate IDM Program Manager for Abbott Laboratories.

Why does stigma increase costs? Because when we stigmatize mental health issues, employees don’t get the treatment they need. According to recent statistics, approximately one in five people are dealing with a mental health situation on a daily basis; yet only one-third of these people are receiving the care they need.


Over the last two decades, absence professionals have tried to sweep the issue under the rug. We tried to ignore it, and spent thousands of dollars defending against depression to keep it from being attached to a claim. I include myself in this old way of thinking when I reflect back to the time I spent managing workers’ compensation and disability programs.

We didn’t understand the connections to injury and depression. We didn’t want depression, anxiety, or anything vaguely related to a mental health condition to be included as part of the claim because it complicated the claim and added cost.

Popular culture is still filled with inaccurate images of those who suffer with mental illness.

Yet, mental health conditions continue to be among the leading causes of workplace absence and are associated with high medical treatment costs and lost wages. Mental health conditions are often not the primary diagnosis, but they influence recovery and return to work. And because mental health issues often go “under the radar,” their impact may not be captured in claims data, which is why we need to acknowledge the issue and address it head on.

For the last 25 years, DMEC has addressed the importance of workplace mental health and has regularly delivered tools and resources to our members through webinars, white papers, and our conferences. Mental and behavioral health garnered a great deal of attention at the 2016 DMEC Annual Conference. It will again be the focus of a full-day preconference workshop at the 2017 DMEC Annual Conference.

Why do we feel this is such an important topic? Because while strides are being made to increase workplace mental health awareness, little has been done to improve the work environment and provide support to the disability, absence, and risk management professionals who are handling these complex issues. As the social understanding of mental health changes, the roles and responsibilities of employers need to change as well.

Fear and stigma prevents us from addressing workplace mental health issues. So let’s try to look at mental health as “brain health.” The brain is part of the physical body.  Thus, mental health is an aspect of physical health.

Unfortunately, there is a long history of viewing mental health as something both “more” and very “different” than other forms of human health. Popular culture is still filled with inaccurate images of those who suffer with mental illness. I don’t want to imply that we don’t have individuals who suffer significant mental health issues, but most of our employees have mild to moderate mental health conditions that are treatable.


However, those who need care and would benefit from getting it, can be afraid to seek it. Their co-workers and employers suffer along with them, in the form of reduced productivity, absenteeism, possible alcohol and other drug abuse, and morale problems.

To effectively address mental health, employers must continue to overcome stigma in the workplace and begin to treat mental health like any other health condition. We need to show the same care and compassion that is shown for an employee who has cancer, a heart condition, or a broken leg. Until we do, we will continue to see this health condition as the leading cause of absence and disability. We have the power to change the culture; let’s get started.

More from Risk & Insurance

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The Profession

Curt Gross

This director of risk management sees cyber, IP and reputation risks as evolving threats, but more formal education may make emerging risk professionals better prepared.
By: | June 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first non-professional job was working at Burger King in high school. I learned some valuable life lessons there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

After taking some accounting classes in high school, I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant. After working on a few Widgets Inc. projects in college, I figured out that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Risk management found me. The rest is history. Looking back, I am pleased with how things worked out.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?


I think we do a nice job on post graduate education. I think the ARM and CPCU designations give credibility to the profession. Plus, formal college risk management degrees are becoming more popular these days. I know The University of Akron just launched a new risk management bachelor’s program in the fall of 2017 within the business school.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

I think we could do a better job with streamlining certificates of insurance or, better yet, evaluating if they are even necessary. It just seems to me that there is a significant amount of time and expense around generating certificates. There has to be a more efficient way.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

Selfishly, I prefer a destination with a direct flight when possible. RIMS does a nice job of selecting various locations throughout the country. It is a big job to successfully pull off a conference of that size.

Curt Gross, Director of Risk Management, Parker Hannifin Corp.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

Definitely the change in nontraditional property & casualty exposures such as intellectual property and reputational risk. Those exposures existed way back when but in different ways. As computer networks become more and more connected and news travels at a more rapid pace, it just amplifies these types of exposures. Sometimes we have to think like the perpetrator, which can be difficult to do.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

I hate to sound cliché — it’s quite the buzz these days — but I would have to say cyber. It’s such a complex risk involving nontraditional players and motives. Definitely a challenging exposure to get your arms around. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll really know the true exposure until there is more claim development.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?


Our captive insurance company. I’ve been fortunate to work for several companies with a captive, each one with a different operating objective. I view a captive as an essential tool for a successful risk management program.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I can’t point to just one. I have and continue to be lucky to work for really good managers throughout my career. Each one has taken the time and interest to develop me as a professional. I certainly haven’t arrived yet and welcome feedback to continue to try to be the best I can be every day.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I would like to think I have and continue to bring meaningful value to my company. However, I would have to say my family is my proudest accomplishment.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

Favorite movie is definitely “Good Will Hunting.”

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Tough question to narrow down. If my wife ran a restaurant, it would be hers. We try to have dinner as a family as much as possible. If I had to pick one restaurant though, I would say Fire Food & Drink in Cleveland, Ohio. Chef Katz is a culinary genius.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

The Grand Canyon. It is just so vast. A close second is Stonehenge.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?


A few, actually. Up until a few years ago, I owned a sport bike (motorcycle). Of course, I wore the proper gear, took a safety course and read a motorcycle safety book. Also, I have taken a few laps in a NASCAR [race car] around Daytona International Speedway at 180 mph. Most recently, trying to ride my daughter’s skateboard.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

The Dalai Lama. A world full of compassion, tolerance and patience and free of discrimination, racism and violence, while perhaps idealistic, sounds like a wonderful place to me.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

I really enjoy the company I work for and my role, because I get the opportunity to work with various functions. For example, while mostly finance, I get to interact with legal, human resources, employee health and safety, to name a few.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

I asked my son. He said, “Risk management and insurance.” (He’s had the benefit of bring-your-kid-to-work day.)

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]