As employers increasingly embrace diversity, equity and inclusion strategies, strong mental-health support can be a key pillar in those efforts, said Joby McKenzie, managing director for Canada at Teladoc Health, during Benefits Canada‘s 2023 Healthy Outcomes Conference in October.

Highlighting statistics showing the mental-health disparities across diverse groups, she noted a third of Indigenous people deal with mental-health challenges compared to a fifth of all Canadians, while 50 per cent of Indigenous people show symptoms of anxiety compared to just a seventh of all Canadians. As well, women are twice as likely to have depression than men and LGBTQ2S+ people are at double the risk for post-traumatic stress disorder compared to heterosexual people.

One of the reasons for these challenges is inequities in access to public health care, said McKenzie, referring to a Teladoc survey that found, among Canadians who reported accessing mental-health support for either themselves or a relative, 40 per cent said it was very difficult to get support through the health-care system.

Read: How employers are using data to integrate DEI into their benefits plans

The survey also highlighted the need for high-quality and personalized support, she said, noting employers are well-positioned to help address these challenges and would subsequently benefit from improved retention. Indeed, seven in 10 respondents said they’d be more likely to stay with an employer that supported their mental-health needs.

McKenzie suggested employers adopt a “stepped care” approach that supports employees with low-severity mental-health issues all the way to those with very severe challenges. The low end of the spectrum would include digital platforms that are more geared towards prevention, while the other end would include disability management, compassionate return-to-work programs, video therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist and regular assessments and reporting.

Investing in support for just moderate or severe mental-health challenges and ignoring the low end of the spectrum would result in “not getting the right return on investment, not supporting the population as it relates to equity and probably spending too much if our low-acuity employees are only seeing a psychiatrist and we’re not matching actual need.”

Read: Webinar coverage: Tackling barriers and increasing access to mental-health care

According to research, noted McKenzie, digital health solutions can reduce symptoms of depression by 53 per cent, while 82 per cent of respondents consider it as effective as face-to-face therapy. These solutions are often much more convenient for people, she added, and can help to reduce the stigma of getting support for some populations. “It’s one important way of supporting equitable access to care.”

The stepped care model also demonstrates that employers recognize they have a diverse employee population with varying needs and is prioritizing creating an inclusive environment.“Employees feel valued, respected and [that their mental health] is supported.”

Read more coverage of the 2023 Healthy Outcomes Conference.