This Mental Health Week and beyond, employers can support employee mental health using digital toolkits, mental-health coaching and by providing adequate coverage, says Marie-Chantal Côtè, senior vice-president of group benefits at Sun Life Financial Inc.

Mental-health practitioner claims more than doubled between 2019 and 2023, according to a recent report by Sun Life that examined claims made through benefits plans administered by the insurer. Between 2019 and 2022, the percentage of plan members making mental-health claims grew by almost 70 per cent. It also found mental health was the leading cause of disability claims, accounting for 40 per cent of long-term disability claims by women and 30 per cent of claims made by men.

Côtè notes there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to mental health, so it’s important employers equip themselves with a digital toolkit that can provide resources to support the mental health of their entire workforce.

Read: 77% of U.S. employers reporting increase in employees’ mental-health needs: survey

“[Adequate] coverage for paramedical[s] is also key . . . as well as virtual care solutions that support the physical and mental health of employees. We offer mental-health coaching, which helps employees identify the best solutions in their plan for their unique leads.”

Employers have an inherent responsibility to their employees to provide a psychologically safe environment for work, says Kim Siddall, People Corporation’s national vice-president of client strategy and delivery excellence.

An area that needs more focus is around solutions for substance abuse, she adds. “Employers want to help employees who are dealing with [their or a family member’s] substance use . . . but they often struggle with how to provide support given the scarcity of resources and expense of private treatment. While this is an area of increasing focus in public health, employers need to be better armed with information, education and resources on how to respond in this space.”

Read: Telus training managers to recognize signs of employees experiencing mental-health struggles

Siddall says providing a broad scope of eligible mental-health practitioners and a mix of avenues for support is an important consideration to address employees’ unique needs. “Testing your benefits coverage for adequacy ensures your program’s design is meeting the needs of your employees and their families and . . . isn’t creating barriers to accessing care.”

Sun Life’s report also found employees aged 30 to 39 had the largest increase in mental-health practitioner claims.

“We think the reason this group has seen the largest increase comes down to two things,” says Côtè. “On one hand, there’s increased awareness and discussion, which [helps people feel more comfortable] to seek help sooner. They might be experiencing less stigma as a demographic growing up at a time where there were more discussions around mental health. On the other hand, it could be that they’re facing increased workload and stress, [such as] women . . . in their childbearing years [who are] likely having to manage multiple priorities.”

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