With so many employees returning to the office, the Ontario Association of Social Workers is calling on employers to introduce stand-alone mental-health coverage in their group benefits plans worth a minimum of $1,500 per employee.
A recent survey conducted by Leger for the OASW and polling 1,000 respondents found more than half (52 per cent) said cost was the top barrier in seeking help for their mental-health challenges.
The current median coverage for mental-health counselling through benefits plans is $750, noted the OASW, referring to findings from the 2021 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey. It also found 21 per cent of benefits plan sponsors reported a maximum between $1,001 and $5,000, while seven per cent said they have a maximum greater than $5,000.
“People who are lucky enough to have those mental-health benefits find out very quickly they are insufficient,” said Dr. Deepy Sur, chief executive officer of OASW, in a press release.
Citing data published by Statistics Canada in 2020, the OASW noted mental illness costs Canadian employers more than $6 billion annually in lost productivity and accounts for 70 per cent of all workplace disability costs. It added the benefits to organizations of additional mental-health care include increased productivity, higher employee engagement and, ultimately, more profitability.
“Employers have a critical role to play in our shared recovery,” said Sur. “We need them to step up and provide more robust mental-health supports in their workplace benefits packages. Now is the time to do it. For both workers and their employers, there has never been a greater need for these benefits.”
The survey also found only a third (36 per cent) of respondents reported having access to a benefits plan that includes coverage for mental health, despite the growing demand for help.
This deficiency greatly impacts social workers, said the OASW, noting they’re the largest group of mental-health providers in Ontario. When treating mental-health issues, social workers take a broader approach by focusing on various parts of a person’s environment that impact their well-being, the organization noted, adding this includes considering factors such as social and financial pressures.
“Leaders in every field ought to be demonstrating empathy and doubling down on communications with their employees,” said Sur. “That means letting them know what help is available, where and how to get it, what is expected of them and what they can expect from you.”