Supporting Employees with Mental Illness During COVID-19

During all the upheavals of COVID-19, employees are facing unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety. For employees who were already suffering from depression, anxiety, or addictions before the lock down, the past few months have been additionally difficult.  Whether they are working from home, or were temporarily laid off, they may have had to deal with new challenges. They may have concerns about family income, the health of family members, perhaps elderly parents, and homeschooling their children. They may have needed to access their employee health benefits.

Employee Benefits and Mental Illness

At any given time, before COVID-19, 20% of employees in Canada are now suffering, or will suffer from some form of mental health illness in their lifetime. For many, that is depression or anxiety, and there is a mental health continuum for these issues, the “end stage” of which is the leading cause of short and long-term disability claims.  However, employers are faced with an additional concern which is that 49% of depressed or anxious employees do not seek medical care. An even higher percentage (up to two-thirds) are not receiving proper or adequate treatment, in spite of the fact that their employee benefits plans include coverage for mental health treatment.

Overcoming the Stigma with Communication & Care

Employee surveys across Canada and the US reveal that employees face a number of barriers to accessing mental health care, and the number #1 barrier is the fear of stigma.  Employees fear that coming forward with claims for mental health services will hinder their career opportunities. They might be passed over for promotions, or face bias in employee reviews. When they take time off for illness, they might be viewed as making an excuse to slack off. Another issue is the lengthy waiting lists for counseling or therapy, particularly from psychiatrists.

According to Dr. Karen MacNeill, a psychologist with Copeman Healthcare, employers who seek to support mental health in their companies will put into place a mental health strategy that will address all the phases of mental health their employees might experience.  This strategy will be well communicated to employees and reinforced by creating anti-stigma campaigns and mental health literacy.

At Health Risk Services Inc., we partner with employers and employees to support their benefit plans. We provide personalized service to employees to ensure they understand how best to access their plan for mental health support. We work with employers to help them understand the ROI on their employee benefit plans which goes beyond the value of paying out claims. What we offer is unique in the health insurance marketplace.  If you would like to learn more about how we are different, please give us a call.