Sounding Board: How to support millennials’ growing use of mental-health services

In the past, quotes for psychology services in an employee benefits plan were nominal, especially compared to other paramedical benefits, such as massage therapy. However, we’re now taking pause and reconsidering all new data, which suggests millennials have a propensity to make full use of the mental-health resources available to them.

Consider that over the past month, Beneplan Inc. has received three unique inquiries:

  • A 27-year-old chief financial officer of a technology company asked to what extent he can add coverage for therapy, because two of the company’s employees asked for coverage details;
  • A 31-year-old chief executive officer of a technology firm asked how soon the organization can add an employee assistance program because two employees had reported stress issues to management; and
  • A 24-year-old associate at another company asked about life coaching coverage during an employee seminar.

Read: What you don’t know about your employee assistance program

These anecdotes are unique to this generation. In our experience, baby boomer plan members rarely self-report stress to management, let alone ask about coverage for psychology services. However, in the span of 30 days, Beneplan heard from three millennial influencers asking for mental-health resources.

This reinforces a few insights. First, the End the Stigma campaign by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and other mental-health leaders appears to be working. Also, younger employees are apt to use dollars to care for their mind. And companies with younger leaders tend to take these requests very seriously and don’t abuse that disclosure. Instead, they look for ways they can provide dollars rather than judgment.

Statistics from Green Shield Canada appear to support the trend. The insurer shared a proprietary report from its system that uses a sample of 2.5 million plan members, reviewing the total amount spent towards employee assistance programs, psychology services and sessions with social workers between Sept, 1, 2016, and Aug. 31, 2017. Of the $16.7 million claimed, the single highest category of claimants were individuals under age 20, which spent $4.2 million or 25 per cent of the total.

Read: Healthy Outcomes: Low-intensity cognitive behavioural therapy touted as alternative to address depression

By extending this bracket to plan members under age 30, the figures show this group consumed 37 per cent of mental-health dollars. Compare this to older generations in the workplace, such as those aged 50 to 99, who spent just 19 per cent of the total.

Meanwhile, Morneau Shepell Ltd. reported that its average utilization rate of employee assistance programs across all Canadians was 15 per cent in 2016. However, employees under age 40 at organizations with between 150 and 300 employees had utilization rates of 38 per cent, more than double the national average.

The sandwich generation — those in their 30s, 40s and 50s — are still the highest average users. The years spent juggling career, family and aging parents are notoriously stressful. However, we didn’t expect those under 20 or 30 to be in a similar or greater need of mental-health care.

An Ipsos mental-health survey published in April 2017 noted millennials stand out as a particular challenge. It found that 63 per cent of millennials can be classified as at high risk for mental-health illnesses, up from 56 per cent in 2016 and 53 per cent in 2015.

Read: Younger workers more willing to make trade-off in benefits plans

So what can employers do to get ahead of this trend?

  1. Promote the #endstigma campaign in the workplace. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health publishes resources online.
  2. Treat mental illness as a possible workplace injury, just like health and safety. Recognize that all workers’ compensation programs and private insurers do take this seriously.
  3. Understand that mental-health issues are no longer a light talking point. It will cost employers real dollars to undo damage created by a toxic workplace, either through lawsuits, disability claims or employee turnover.
  4. Invest in adding benefits dollars towards psychology services, trimming spend away from other areas of waste if necessary.
  5. Invest in an employee assistance program.
  6. Invest in other support tools, such as coverage for pharmacogenetics, which cover drug-to-gene compatibility tests for depression, anxiety and other psychiatric drugs.

Read: Sun Life to look at effectiveness of pharmacogenetics on plan members

At Beneplan, we’re taking this trend seriously by introducing a new human resources toolkit. At the next benefits renewal, employers will have coverage and access to: a live human resources advisor to help build mental-health prevention strategies; coverage for an employee assistance program through Morneau Shepell; and coverage for pharmacogenetics testing to help plan members find the right mental-health prescription.

We see these tools as essential in caring for the mind, mitigating disability claims and recognizing that the incoming generation of talent need to be addressed in a more thoughtful way.

Yafa Sakkejha is general manager of the Beneplan Inc.