It’s a Catch-22, this rise in the focus on mental health.
Nearly two years after the coronavirus became a household name, employers are still ramping up their mental-health supports, a testament to the sustained attention to making people’s mental wellness a focal point — in the workplace, at home and in society at large.
But the rise in mental-health issues is a direct result of the global coronavirus pandemic. The focus on mental health isn’t new, but if it wasn’t for the uncertainty and isolation of the past 23 months, I believe it would still be hovering at the edges. And it’s unlikely you’d be reading Benefits Canada‘s second annual Mental Health Issue.
According to the 2021 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey, about one in five (19 per cent) Canadian benefits plan sponsors said they recently increased their maximum coverage level for mental-health counselling services and 18 per cent said they plan to do so. This year’s survey also found the median maximum coverage level for mental-health benefits is $750 — still way too low, in my opinion. And while it’s promising to see that 21 per cent of plans sponsors have a maximum between $1,001 and $5,000 and seven per cent have a maximum greater than $5,000, this is still an area that needs employers’ attention.
Without the pandemic, however, would we be seeing these important adjustments to mental-health coverage under workplace benefits plans? Would employers be prioritizing mental-health training for their employees? Would they be introducing virtual health-care options?
In this month’s expanded Employer Strategy, I interviewed the two winners and four finalists in the 2021 Workplace Benefits Awards’ mental-health categories, narrowing their actions and initiatives over the past several months into some key ingredients of a truly supportive mental-health strategy.
These six employers have several key features in common: using data and employee feedback to design their programs, support from the top of their organizations, the provision of mental-health training and virtual services and expanded mental-health offerings to combat the pandemic.
Our sophomore Mental Health Issue highlights many other employers that are prioritizing their employees’ mental health. In the Cover Story, Corus Entertainment Inc. discusses how it’s supporting workers’ emotional well-being through initiatives like consistent communications about its employee assistance program and five-minute videos to help staff build skills such as resilience. In an industry-leading move, it also eliminated the cap on its mental-health benefits coverage, which has already resulted in many more employees seeking out help.
The Benefits Update includes a look at how Schneider Electric is taking a proactive approach to psychological safety in the workplace, while the HR Update shows how IKEA Canada is connecting its diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives to employees’ mental health.
It doesn’t stop there. This month’s Head to Head looks at the relatively new use of psychedelics in the treatment of mental-health conditions. And Ross Taylor, Sobeys Inc.’s mental-health program manager, talks about his organization’s focus on mental health in the Q&A.
It’s truly inspiring to see all of these employers — from different sectors and with very diverse types of workforces — sustaining their attention on employees’ mental health. But it’s still important to recognize the overhanging global crisis that escalated these issues in the first place and ensure we’re continuing to take care of employees’ mental health long after the pandemic is behind us.
Jennifer Paterson is the editor of Benefits Canada.