Starbucks adds new mental health benefit for employees

Starbucks (SBUX) is adding a new employee benefit, offering its more than 200,000 U.S.-based partners access to therapy sessions at no cost to help address the growing mental health crisis. 

Starting April 6, Starbucks partners and eligible family members — including their spouse, domestic partner, and children — can each have access to 20 sessions with a mental health therapist or coach.

The benefit will be offered through Lyra Health, a mental health benefits platform co-founded by former Facebook CFO David Ebersman. Also, employees will get unlimited access to self-care apps offered by the platform. 

Ebersman, who views “mental health was one of the defining problems of our time,” described Lyra Health as a solution that removes barriers that make it difficult to access high-quality health care. 

A Starbucks employee can go to Lyra Health’s digital platform, confidentially identify what’s going on, indicate the time of day that works best, and put in preferences that meet their personal needs. They are then matched with evidence-based certified therapists who are available to meet within days, whether in person or via video. 

“I’m excited about what it’s going to do for us. I’m excited about what it could do for the country. I feel like we are on this threshold of breaking an old mold and doing something different,” Ron Crawford, Starbucks vice president of global benefits, told Yahoo Finance. 

Crawford explained that Starbucks extensively polled its employees to identify the need for this benefit. The coffee giant already offers a range of comprehensive benefits like stock options, health care for part and full-time workers, and tuition coverage.

“Anything that escalates, that’s the cornerstone. We’ve heard from our partners that mental health is an issue for them and everyone in this country,” Crawford said, calling the U.S. mental health system “underserved.”

Crawford said the problem with the mental health system could be distilled to three categories: Stigma, access, and quality. 

“The stigma is the frontline of it,” he explained. “If I had torn my ankle, I can easily have a conversation with you about my ankle, and you’d talk to me about it, and we would move on.”

Conversely, however, “If I were struggling with depression, we wouldn’t have that conversation because we’re just not good at it as a society, and that’s the stigma. That’s unfortunate,” Crawford said. “What it means is it prevents people from seeking the help they need.” 

The access problem “is significant,” with the average wait time is over eight weeks for adults and over two months for children, Crawford said. 

Through Lyra Health, they’re finding that a majority of the therapists of “wide availability” within two weeks and many within two days, he added.  

In addressing the quality issue, Starbucks is also reaching out to only therapists certified in evidence-based therapy, known as cognitive-behavioral therapy. 

Crawford’s hope is the partnership with Lyra Health “will begin the transformation of the mental health experience for our partners.” 

Julia La Roche is a Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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