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Over the next three years, 67 per cent of plan sponsors said they anticipate investing money and/or staff resources in wellness areas outside of their health benefits plan, with 51 per cent focusing on investments in emotional or mental health, according to the 2021 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey.

It found 14 per cent of plan sponsors also anticipate investing in resources to help members with addiction, increasing to 23 per cent among those with a unionized workforce and 23 per cent for organizations with more than 500 employees.

Three-quarters (74 per cent) of plan sponsors indicated they effectively help employees manage stress, unchanged from 2020 and up significantly from 58 per cent in 2011, when the question was first asked. This increased to 82 per cent among plan sponsors with a flexible benefits plan, versus 71 per cent with a traditional plan.

Read: Health benefits claims paid out to support mental health rose 24% in 2020: CLHIA

Roughly half (48 per cent) of plan sponsors said they have a training pro­gram for managers (40 per cent) or employees (34 per cent) to help them recognize and respond to signs of depression or other mental-health concerns. Mental-health training was more likely among plan sponsors with a flexible plan (61 per cent), as well as employers with more than 500 employees (71 per cent), with a unionized workforce (70 per cent) or those in the public sector (66 per cent).

“Plan sponsors help employees manage stress, but the majority don’t have training programs to help leaders recognize the signs of mental-health issues in the workforce,” said Barb Martinez, an advisory board member and national practice leader for drug solutions at Canada Life, in the report. “So if employees don’t come forward, they’re less likely to benefit from the help available. That’s a big disconnect. As insurers, we can do more to promote the management training programs that we provide and at no cost.”

The survey also found about a fifth (19 per cent) of plan sponsors recently increased their maximum coverage level for mental-health counselling services, a number that increased among those with 500 or more employees (30 per cent), as well as for companies that experienced a positive financial impact from the pandemic (28 per cent) and those with unionized workforces (27 per cent). While the current median maximum coverage level for mental-health counselling is $750, 21 per cent of plan sponsors have a maximum between $1,001 and $5,000, while seven per cent have a maximum greater than $5,000.

Read: Employers beefing up mental-health benefits amid pandemic: survey

Plan sponsors (90 per cent) were more likely to agree their culture encourages health and wellness, consistent across all sizes of organization. And plan sponsors with a wellness culture were also more likely to invest in wellness areas outside of their benefits plan, such as emotional or mental health (52 per cent versus 38 per cent of employers without a wellness culture) and physical fitness (29 per cent versus 15 per cent).

“Organizations that have invested in a wellness culture fared much better during the pandemic,” said Allison Gordon, an advisory board member and vice-president of sales at Teledoc Health, in the report. “It’s no surprise we’re seeing employers become smarter shoppers for wellness tools and resources, in part due to digital solutions that reduce costs and appeal to employees and their families for accessibility and ease of use.”

The survey also found mental-health conditions were the top chronic condition among plan members, with 21 per cent reporting a diagnosis of depression, anxiety or another mental-health condition. In addition, plan members working in health care (30 per cent) and education (36 per cent) reported much higher rates of diagnosis, as did females (26 per cent, compared to 15 per cent of males).

A third (36 per cent) of plan members reported increased feelings of anxiety or sadness/depression in the past year, climbing to 45 per cent among females and 41 per cent among plan members ages 18 to 34, with the latter group (26 per cent) more likely to report a mental-health condition.

Download the 2021 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey report here.