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World Mental Health Day 2023: Providing access to mental health support

World Mental Health Day 2023: Providing access to mental health support

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The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day on 10th October, set by the World Foundation of Mental Health, is ‘Mental health is a universal human right.’

Employee access to mental health support has been a key focus for employers for the past few years.

Globally, an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety.[1] According to a brief released by the WHO, the pandemic triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of these conditions, which – combined with interruptions to healthcare – meant that people faced even bigger gaps in support.[2]  Post-pandemic, demand continues to outstrip the support on offer, especially for those relying solely on public health services.

Ensuring employee access to mental health support is therefore a fundamental step to take towards improvement. How can an employer ensure that they are best looking after their workforce, to provide responsive support when needed as well as mitigating mental health risks? Initial questions to ask within a business are:

  • Can your EAP be accessed by all employees? If your EAP is linked to a group insurance policy, sometimes the EAP is only available to insured plan members.
  • Do all of your employees have access to a virtual GP or primary care physician? This service is often provided via a group income protection policy, but again, is this only available for plan members?
  • Have you identified which mental health treatment pathways are available via your group income protection insurer?
  • Do you have data that shows you areas of employee wellbeing impairment? This can help you build a health strategy which targets mental health support, and assist improved wellbeing as well as business productivity.
  • Does your HR team understand when to signpost an employee towards mental health support? It is important that HR teams know when and how they can assist employees experiencing mental health challenges.

The good news is that there are solutions to the above issues, which can often be implemented quickly and easily with adjustments to your group insurance policies. Employee data gathering apps can provide the insights into their workforces that employers need to inform their strategy. An analysis of complimentary wellbeing services might be an initial exercise to complete.

Once established, it is important that mental health support is communicated clearly to employees. This enables them to fully utilise the wealth of resources that may be available to them, and which they may not otherwise be aware of. If lack of engagement is a challenge, a wrap-around education and communication strategy might be required.

It is also important to recognise how other health conditions and circumstantial factors can impact wellbeing. Implementing support for these issues can also mitigate poor mental health and reduce employee absence. Examples of these include:

Menopause – Changes in hormones during the menopause can impact both mental and physical health – which can then affect each other. The menopause can trigger stress, anxiety and depression, which can be caused or compounded by physical symptoms such as interrupted sleep, headaches, and migraines.

Financial wellbeing – Money worries can have an enormous impact on mental health, and unfortunately this is also a more pressing issue today. Many households have suffered financially due to both the pandemic and the higher costs of living. Financial stress can lead to sleepless nights, anxiety, and an inability to fully focus on work.

Work-related stress – Acute work stress can have a huge impact on an individual’s mental wellbeing and aggravate pre-existing conditions. Symptoms include a drop in work performance, depression, anxiety, and sleeping difficulties. It is important for employers to recognise work-related stress as a significant health and safety issue. A company can and should take steps to ensure that employees are not subjected to unnecessary stress, and may need to seek occupational health advice.

It is important for employers to recognise the benefits of providing access to mental health resources. Those who provide support will be best equipped to mitigate the growing absence costs, and have a more productive and engaged workforce. A well-developed mental health and wellbeing strategy can reap dividends, by creating a supportive workplace culture that is good for businesses and employees.

[1] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-at-work

[2] https://www.who.int/news/item/02-03-2022-covid-19-pandemic-triggers-25-increase-in-prevalence-of-anxiety-and-depression-worldwide