When it comes to maintaining and improving employee wellness, mental health has become a lead topic for employers and benefit providers—and with good reason.

Mental health is one of the fastest growing categories of disability costs in Canada, including the long-term economic costs of healthcare, disability income and lost productivity.

Wellness programs alone are not enough

Many organizations have adopted some type of employee assistance program (EAP) to support wellness, but a traditional EAP is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to workplace mental health. EAPs offer supportive counselling for life and work issues, information on the benefits of living an active, healthy lifestyle and encourage work-life balance, but specialized programs that go beyond these core services are required to address the medical and psychological treatment needs of employees living with mental illness and workplace stigma.

Changing attitudes toward mental illness will take time and employers can—and must—take a leadership role in driving this change. There are a number of ways employers can take part in the mental health conversation, drive change and support employees.

Read: Workplace mental health

Employers need to know the financial and human impact of mental illness within their workforce. By collaborating with their health and disability insurers and benefit plan advisors, employers can better understand the specific challenges they need to address to ensure real actions are taken. For example, organizations can provide additional funding for medical and psychological treatment programs. This helps address the need for more accessible care when it comes to mental illness and supporting a sustainable return to work.

To better address worksite-based needs, organizations can sponsor workshops on stress management, facilitate the formation of work-based support groups or invest in mental health-specific programs such as mental health first aid training for front-line supervisors. And, earlier this year, Canada became the first country in the world to release a national standard for mental health in the workplace. The standard is voluntary, but it is designed to help organizations and their employees improve their workplace psychological health and safety.

Leveraging community partnerships

Building strong linkages with community partners is an effective way to provide employees with information and connect them with available resources. Partners may include healthcare professionals, local experts or advocates and community-based organizations offering mental health support.

Peer support, for example, is viewed as a key component to maintain recovery for people living with mental illness that is available outside the clinical environment. Peer support involves a peer who has personal experience with mental illness, and a peer-support worker usually has specific training in addition to lived experience. Workplace peer support can help employees overcome barriers related to mental health issues and stigma in the workplace.

Read: Culture shift

Employers can leverage such support by inviting peer-support organizations to their workplace. Through presentations and lunch and learns, employees can hear personal accounts from people living with mental illness. These types of initiatives are low cost and easy to implement, help raise mental health understanding and reduce negative attitudes, while spreading word of available treatments and local resources. More importantly, they let your employees know it’s okay to talk about mental health and to seek help.

For the partner organization, such initiatives are often part of recovery programs, helping members gain self-confidence and insight into their own personal illness.

Looking ahead

Another emerging approach to strengthening overall workplace mental health is based on the science of positive psychology. Instead of just addressing the at-risk employee population or targeting people with a particular mental health issue, positive psychology considers the overall improvement of an individual’s well-being. This is relevant in the workplace because ensuring employees are fulfilled, supported and appreciated at work can assist with organizational performance.

By providing specialized treatment and support programs, accessing community-based partners and taking a leadership role in changing attitudes, employers will be well on their way to helping all employees maintain good mental health and achieve their best in the workplace.

This article was originally published on Oct. 10, 2013.

Anne Nicoll is vice-president of health and disability management for Medavie Blue Cross. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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Thanks Anne for writing this article. According to a study by the Conference Board of Canada, the Canadian economy lost an estimated $16.6 billion in 2012 due to absenteeism. One reason for this is employees struggling with depression and anxiety. CAMH estimates one in 4 people suffer from mental health issues. Fortunately, mental health illnesses are slowly becoming less stigmatized in Canada. How can we help those who are suffering in silence?

One solution would be to encourage employers in Canada to offer services such as free yoga (I practice hot hatha yoga and love it) and cafeterias that serve meals recommended by nutritionists. This is par for the course in Silicon Valley as it is proven to boost productivity and reduce absenteeism. An employee might be feeling lethargic around three in the afternoon and decides to take a one hour yoga lesson. Rejuvenated, he/she works till 8 that day. It is win win situation for the employer and employee. Now, not every company can afford in house cafeterias but they could negotiate deals with nutritionists who would supply frozen meals at a corporate discounted rate.

Sunday, October 13 at 7:33 pm | Reply

Rey Carr:

Peer support can be very useful, and even more important are peers in the workplace who can act as a bridge to either the EAP or peer support groups. A peer referral system, where workplace peers receive training and support to tune in to colleagues and help them find resources that can deal effectively with mental health issues, are likely even more important that perks or other health benefits.

Friday, May 09 at 8:34 pm | Reply

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