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Benefits Canada 2022 Survey Recap: Mental Health Takes Centre Stage

Benefits Canada’s annual survey is out, and the results are eye-opening.

While the usual stuff— like the effects of the pandemic and use of benefits— are all there, this survey is unique among previous years. For the first time, Benefits Canada asked respondents about their mental health over the past year.

This has yielded some exciting results. The havoc the pandemic has wrought on the populace has been reflected in the survey results. 

“Responses for stress levels over the years suggest a move from crisis mode into more of a sustained burnout or sustained strain mode,” said Megan Douglas of the Saskatchewan Blue Cross. “This is an interesting nuance considering the new stresses brought on by working at home and potential cultural disconnection or re-adjustments through returns to the office. How leaders manage proactive resilience in their workforce is now increasingly important.”

While that is certainly of concern, it only is part of the picture. The numbers tell a different story.  

The majority have good mental health, but bad mental health too prevalent to ignore 

  • Forty percent reported their mental health was generally excellent, and 39 percent said it was good.
  • However, 22 percent said that their mental health is generally poor, more than twice the amount, and 10 percent said their overall health was poor. 

Job satisfaction appears to be one of the deciding factors. About 47 percent of people who reported being dissatisfied with their jobs had poor mental health. 

Breaking down what poor mental health means, 27 percent of plan members reported high or extremely high-stress levels on a typical day in the past three months. That is lower than the past year when 35 percent said they experienced this stress level. 

Personal finance (35 percent) and workload (30 percent) were at the top for sources of stress. Work-life balance, personal relationships, and health concerns, among others, were also listed as sources of stress.

In particular, there is a greater importance on personal relationships and health concerns as those rose in the ranks for top stress causes.

There appears to be a silver lining, though. Respondents may be taken stock of their situation and opt to care for themselves. More and more people want to take measures like counseling, exercise, and healthy eating as a way to combat stress.  However, 46 percent are already taking medication to help center their minds, meaning the other measures may only be aspirational. 

Some reasons to be optimistic

Mental health issues, namely stress, may present a dire situation. But there is hope. Seventy-five percent of plan sponsors hope to dedicate funds or staff resources to at least one wellness area in the next three years. This includes 90 percent of unionized companies, 89 percent of employers with 500 workers or more, and 69 percent of non-unionized workplaces.

The vast majority of employers expect their future investment will be in emotional and mental health support, about 46 percent. Thirty-two percent anticipate physical fitness, illness prevention, and social wellness as the wellness areas they will be investing in. 

Though Vishal Ravikanti warns, “the interplay between medications and counselling for mental health cannot be overstated. Medications are often necessary for treatment, especially at diagnosis, then, as counselling does its part, medication may be adjusted.”

She emphasized the need to make these treatments “work in conjunction. When there is limited coverage for counselling this results in members opting for medications alone for treatment.”

Positive outlook overall 

Despite everything, the report paints a rosy picture that anyone can get behind. Plan members appear to be “appreciative.” The vast majority, about 54 percent, described their plan as excellent. This is up from 47 percent the year before.

Only a vanishingly small number of people, 5 percent, said their plan was poor. But even in this category, there are reasons for optimism. The previous year, 10 percent of respondents would have described their plan as poor. Even here, the industry and what they could provide is improving. More and more people are enrolling in plans that are to their liking.

The report still provides a warning. “Plan sponsors were firm in their opinion that the main purpose of the benefits plan is to help attract and retain employees, yet this may become increasingly at odds with concerns around sustainability,” the report reads.

“The proportion of plans with health-care spending accounts and wellness accounts grew steadily, with both plan members and plan sponsors placing great importance on these components of their plan,” the report provided some more good news.