This is Part 4 in our coverage of the 2012 Healthy Outcomes Conference, held in Kelowna, B.C.

Read Part 1: Winning partnerships

Read Part 2: Health and personal responsibility

Read Part 3: The growing value of benefits

Most organizations will see mental disorders as one of the top two categories on their drug utilization reports, and those conditions tend to be trending upwards, said Leanne MacFarlane, senior director, business development, with MHCSI, as part of a mental health panel at the conference.

“Most plans do a pretty good job of covering the medications, but are they covering services that help make sure members are on the right therapy, are using the medications appropriately and are being treated early?”

Read: The elephant and the iceberg: Mental health in the workplace

Judith Plotkin, vice-president, strategic growth, with Homewood Human Solutions, believes plan sponsors could be doing a better job. “There are no real standards, assessments or policies in place that address psychological health and mental illness in the workplace.”

While the Mental Health Commission recently released workplace guidelines, more formal procedures are needed, she said, adding, “it’s critical to align a wellness strategy with a business strategy and also include mental health for employees to see the type of support available to them.”

Read: MHCC unveils mental health strategy

“Part of aligning a wellness strategy is creating an integrated communication plan to support the various initiatives and engage employees,” said Chris MacDonald, assistant vice-president, health management services, with Manulife Financial Group Benefits. “Consider gathering insights from key stakeholders on how best to engage employees in your organization. Then use that information to map out communications for Year 1, Year 2, etc. Refine as it’s needed.”

Read: Take an integrated approach to mental health

Plotkin said that not aligning a mental health strategy with a communication plan and business case is a “kiss of death,” because it will be difficult to get executive buy-in. Part of planning to manage mental health is taking advantage of the services offered by providers, often in employee assistance programs.

“Support programs are important to promote—especially around managing stress, because it’s a precursor to more serious mental health conditions.”

For a mental health strategy to succeed, Karen Seward, workplace health specialist, said organizations must start by de-stigmatizing the issue. “There are two factors to do this. One is getting executive buy-in around mental health, specifically; two is getting the lines of business talking about it and understanding their roles in managing it.”

Read: Overcoming the mental health stigma

Jamie Farrell, senior manager, benefit and investment programs, with Rogers Communications Inc., said managers are integral to the mental health dialogue.

“It’s ironic that it’s common to talk about physical health in the workplace, but you typically don’t hear much discussion about mental health. There is an opportunity with people managers to educate them on how to create the right environment where stigmas around mental health can be removed.”

In order to get mental health to the top of the priority list, the panellists agreed that HR and benefits managers should look for “teachable moments” in meetings with senior executives to demonstrate the potential impact of proactively addressing this growing issue.

Leigh Doyle is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

Get a PDF of this article and other coverage from the 2012 Healthy Outcomes Conference.

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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