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Are Canadians Actually Getting The Mental Health Support They Need?

Mental health is the invisible disability that you don’t often see, but has lasting and profound effects that seep in and out of the workplace.

It comes as no surprise that the mental health narrative has been picking up steam, and while there has been a stigma reduction in openly talking about these concerns by normalizing the conversation, the truth is that the majority of people affected are not accessing support when they need it most — despite the fact that there has been a surge in mental health coverage across Canadian organizations.

[Study] Mental-health coverage has nearly doubled over the past five years

According to a new survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, Canadian organizations that provide mental-health coverage has nearly doubled over the past five years.

The study found that 79% of employers are currently offering mental-health coverage for their employees, with 70% reporting it as one of their most costly conditions to cover.

The economic costs are estimated to be $51 billion annually in Canada related to mental health-care, so it comes as no surprise that it’s one of the largest increases over the past five years. The survey went even further to say that 69% of Canadian organizations plan to increase their emphasis on mental-health offerings over the next two years.

60% of Canadians with mental health concerns are not using support tools

When you look at how mental health challenges are continuing to affect the lives of many Canadians, paired with the significant spike in mental health coverage, the reality is that the majority of people affected are not accessing support through workplace benefits or government-funded services.

According to the 2019 Sun Life Barometer, 60% of working Canadians have experienced a mental health issue — and aren’t accessing support through their workplace benefits. And it is reaching dangerous levels with an estimated five-hundred thousand Canadians not showing up to work every week. Absenteeism, presenteeism, short-term and long-term disability are all interconnected, building up to a lot of time lost in productivity and causing concern as to why aren’t these support systems being taken advantage of in the first place.

Workplaces haven’t found the solution to combat workers’ stress levels

Recognizing poor mental health is easier said than done.

While advancements in technology have enabled our work lives to be so fluid no matter where we are, the reality is that we’re never really disconnected from our jobs anymore.

“I carry my office at the end of the day home with me in my pocket. It’s on my phone so that causes stress, and causes anxiety,” says Lawrence Blake, project manager at Mental Health Works Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario.

The survey also found 76% of employers listed stress as the top issue negatively affecting workplace productivity. Despite the surge in coverage, workplaces are still struggling with finding the exact solution for helping workers with stress levels.

The costs related to mental health disabilities are higher than the costs related to physical health disabilities because of their high risk of recurrence and the longer duration of the disability. It is an interesting balance as plan sponsors want to make sure their investment into their employees is making a sustainable difference, but also highlighting the need to look deeper into the plan to see what else can be done to curb the residual impacts of stress from snowballing.

Why the Millennial cohort is really feeling the weight

The Millennial age group is often under siege on many different fronts, and one that keeps hit the hardest by mental health woes. Between student debt, shaky employment, burnout, longer work hours, loneliness, housing concerns and high costs of living, it’s no wonder that two out of three people in that demographic reportedly deal with a mental health issue at some point in their life.

Millennials are changing the way people look at and talk about mental health and are far more comfortable than previous generations for speaking up early about mental health issues they’re facing. And seeing as they will make up an estimated 50% of the workplace, it’s vital that we have a malleable framework and support system for this “burnout generation” that are battling a litany of issues on multiple fronts.

Peer support, counselling and early intervention can help

We all have a role to play in supporting mental health in Canada, and it’s crucial for Canadians to maximize the tools offered by their workplace with mental health issues on the rise. Here are a few things to consider about the prevalence of mental-health issues and how to create an open environment that is sensitive to these growing concerns.

  1. Employers need to better communicate their resources: Employees often don’t realize that their employer has a wide range of resources available to help them. Help is out there, and no one should face these challenges on their own.
  1. Foster a safe environment: Ensure your employees feel supported throughout their mental health journey. Educating employees on how to come forward and have conversations with their manager should be a priority.
  1. Taking advantage of programs: Free therapy and e-therapy programs funded by the government are available and should be encouraged to be taken advantage of.
  1. Building employee resiliency: Organizations should commit to programming in the workplace that helps build that resiliency towards stress. It’s something we can all practice on a daily basis to be emotionally well-armed to handle stress. For instance, breathing techniques, yoga, meditation, journaling, high-intensity workouts, etc.
  1. Recognize the signs: HR professionals and managers should be able to inquire about employees’ health when they notice absenteeism rates building up, and also to know what to do after the first conversation takes place.

Managers don’t need to be arm-chair therapists, but they need to be able to recognize and react to red flags and know what to do. Showing genuine concern for your workers’ wellbeing while maintaining their personal privacy is a delicate balance — but one that ultimately needs to be struck.

Mental health is becoming the next frontier of diversity and inclusion, and employees want their companies to address it.