January 24

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Fear, Misunderstanding And Stigma Leading To Underutilized EAP’s

Despite the momentum we’ve collectively made towards better understanding mental illness and the programs in place to help folks, this invisible barrier of stigma persists to mitigate Employee Assistance Program (EAP) use for those seeking out treatment.

These indirect and direct circumstances of prejudice can lead to feelings of hopelessness and shame in those struggling to cope with their situation.

According to a new study, perceptions of the stigma around receiving professional psychological help can be a barrier to seeking out mental-health services. This fear and misunderstanding often leads to discrimination and greatly limit workers from taking advantage of these wider range of services within an Employee Assistance Program.

[Study] Stigma continues to be a barrier for those seeking help

A recent study published by the Employee Assistance Trade Association’s EASNA Research Notes, took a methodical dive into the overall perceptions of stigma in relation to workers seeking help from employee assistance programs. With a healthy sample of Canadian employees between the ages of 20 and 65, their aim was to find a greater understanding of EAP-related stigma, and what strategies can be implemented to break down the stigmas in order to get higher utilization rates.

After reviewing a comprehensive study like this, you wonder why stigma continues in the workplace. In a perfect world, if have a broken arm, you go to the doctor; you don’t feel any shame in it. You seek out medical help to correct the health problem you have.

Mental illness is still a health problem. It doesn’t make you weak or less of a person just because you’re struggling. In fact, we should be applauding and boosting up those that recognize when they’re down and actively seek out help.

For the reasons why stigma continues to be a barrier, EAP’s are helpful but underutilized programs for high-stigma segments of the workforce.

What can be done to get past EAP-related stigma?

EAP’s are beneficial because they offer immediate access to assistance for a variety of services to deal with all of life’s complex issues. The study concluded with offering a variety of strategies for employees to get help from the program.

  1. Educational interventions: With lower levels of familiarity with EAP’s, there’s a lot of educational components we can do to address negative perceptions of treatment and overcome these hurdles. Having open and transparent dialogue starts at the top of an organization and could be the key to targeting the low EAP utilization rates.
  • Close existing gender gaps in EAP use:

According to the study, the top predictors of higher EAP treatment stigma included being male, those with higher levels of job insecurity, those who are generally unfamiliar with what an EAP can provide and those screened for depression.

  • Embrace virtual: Younger working Canadians aremore likely to value virtual healthcareand to use it for mental health services. Many Canadians simply face time constraints when visiting health practitioners. In addition to the younger cohort who generally feel more comfortable with using online tools, implementing innovative programs such as online counselling services can help employers target this demographic that statistically have more of a challenge with overcoming feelings of stigma.
  • Take a closer look at our own attitudes towards mental health: Making a conscious effort to examine your own judgmental thinking is a huge step we can all do. This is actually defined as the first of the 4-Pillars outlined by Bell Let’s Talk on what we can do towards making a lasting change on mental health forward in Canada.  

Smashing the stigma with Bell Let’s Talk and CAMH

The annual Bell Let’s Talk awareness campaign and The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) have both done incredible jobs at driving the national conversation to reduce this stigma and promote mental health awareness on many levels.

Stigma profoundly changes how people feel about themselves, the way others see them and greatly impacts their self-worth. When we flip the script towards offering support and encouragement, rather than feeling dismissive and judgmental, it instills and reinforces a feeling of dignity and respect that was otherwise lost along the way.

Sometimes we all find this old cognitive software that was downloaded in ourselves long ago that actually shapes the way we speak and perceive mental health now. The narrative from these top institutions is to choose your words carefully, because the way we speak can greatly affect the attitudes and decisions of others. 

About the author 

Chris Gory

Chris Gory is the founder of Orchard Benefits (formerly Insurance Portfolio Financial Services Inc.), a brokerage launched in 1999 that helps companies build the best benefits programs for their employees. Chris is passionate about helping entrepreneurs, and works with over 60 startup companies including Wattpad, 500px, and VarageSale. He is an advisor at the Ryerson Digital Media Zone and at the OneEleven startup hub, and he's led talks about employee benefits and insurance at several startup accelerators including Extreme Startups. Chris has also been featured in the Toronto Star and The Globe & Mail, and he's been a member of the Board of Directors of the Applied Client Network, an international association of independent insurance professionals, since 2012.


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