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NEA Legal & Employment Guidance

Bargaining and Advocacy Tactics to Support Educators' Mental Health

Consider these tactics to improve mental health support of educators using collective bargaining or advocacy.
mental health resources
Published: May 12, 2023
This resource originally appeared on

A survey released in October 2022 found that K-12 public school educators were the most likely profession to report higher levels of anxiety, stress, and burnout – and 55% are ready to leave the profession early

This mental health burnout leads to worker dissatisfaction and exacerbates the educator shortage

NEA has identified employer-provided comprehensive and affordable health insurance as one important solution to reducing the educator shortage, and high-quality mental health care for our members and their families is a crucial component of comprehensive health benefits.

Comprehensive mental health care coverage includes

  • medical (e.g., psychiatry) and mental health services (e.g., outpatient therapy),
  • prescription medications,
  • preventative/wellness care,
  • mail delivery for prescription drugs,
  • telehealth services, alcohol and substance abuse treatment, and
  • providing access to a robust provider network. 

Such comprehensive coverage must also be affordable and not cost-prohibitive. In addition, school districts and higher education institutions must also provide adequate paid leave to our members, so they have the time to receive the mental health support they need without suffering economic hardship.

Now is the time to increase mental health and other support services for students and educators through bargaining and advocacy strategies. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act authorizes over $1 billion in funding for school-based mental health services. In addition, the youth mental health crisis has created further urgency to accelerate this progress.

This guidance highlights some bargaining and advocacy strategies locals may want to consider to improve mental health support for our members.

Create Union Health Benefits Committees

It is helpful to identify union members who will serve on committees focusing on health care benefits so that the union builds its internal expertise.

Consider creating an internal committee to address health benefits, including mental health. The committee can survey members about mental health coverage and gauge member satisfaction. It should also review mental health claims data, including behavioral health utilization, which will help the union prepare for bargaining. The union can use the information it gathers to inform bargaining and relevant joint labor-management committee (JLMC) discussions.

It is also important to form a joint labor-management committee on health care benefits with the employer. A JLMC allows labor and management an opportunity to discuss employees’ benefits needs, including mental health, and promotes the transparency of benefits needs.

A subset of the internal union committee could be on the JLMC along with other members the president appoints. The JLMC can hear from consultants and health plan representatives on a regular basis to discuss plan issues and options, separate from bargaining.

The JLMC can and should ask health plan representatives and consultants about their roles, their compensation, and why they recommend specific plans. The JLMC should also ensure that the employer provides information on projected cost increases available to the JLMC.

Review Your Contractual Mental Health Benefits

Review your contractual (or employer-provided) mental health benefits to determine whether coverage is currently provided, and if so, whether mental health services can be expanded or improved or if employee costs can be reduced.  It should be noted that the coverage, including the related details, may be listed in a separate health policy plan document. If current coverage does not include comprehensive mental health services, consider negotiating the issue during the next round of bargaining or advocating for improvements if you are not in a state with a bargaining statute.

Moreover, review if the plan complies with mental health parity laws. Find more on this topic below. According to federal law, mental health and substance use disorder benefits and services must be comparable and/or less restrictive than those of medical/surgical benefits in terms of deductibles, copayments, co-insurance, treatment limits, and how treatment is accessed. Additionally, analyze how mental health treatment is accessed and under what conditions treatment is covered, and try to improve services.

When reviewing mental health benefits, ensure there is robust coverage of mental health services by analyzing the following:

  • Network coverage;
  • Type of health plan coverage;
  • Waiting periods;
  • Out-of-pocket expenses;
  • Employee Assistance Programs;
  • Wellness programs;
  • Telehealth services;
  • Prescription medications;
  • Mental health parity;
  • Paid medical leave;
  • Non-Discrimination protections; and
  • Privacy

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