Mental health and substance abuse issues on the rise: survey

More than half (60 per cent) of North American workforces said their employees are facing more mental health and substance abuse issues than they were two years ago, according to a new survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

The survey, which polled 190 U.S. and 88 Canadian employers, found 40 per cent of organizations reported their participants are very or extremely stressed and 39 per cent reported higher levels of stress than two years ago.

Read: Workplace stress on the rise as mental-health stigma declines: survey

Mental health and substance abuse factors are having an impact on job performance, according to most of the employers surveyed. The most significant impacts were absenteeism and tardiness (68 per cent), employees’ physical health (68 per cent), overall job performance (65 per cent) and presenteeism (64 per cent).

On average, 9.5 per cent of disability claims were related either to mental-health issues or substance abuse, along with 4.3 per cent of worker’s compensation. In the U.S., 55 per cent of employers reported an increase in overall organizational costs associated with health care for mental health and substance abuse. Overall, 36 per cent reported an increase in disability claims costs and 18 per cent reported an increased cost for worker’s compensation.

Encouragingly, 95 per cent of employers reported they have some level of benefits coverage for these issues. The top specific issues for which they provide coverage were depression (84 per cent), alcoholism (82 per cent), anxiety disorders (78 per cent), prescription drug addiction (77 per cent), non-prescription drug addiction (72 per cent) and bipolar disorder (72 per cent).

Read: Mental Health Commission launches toolkit for building inclusive work culture

Most (84 per cent) survey respondents reported they use an employee assistance program to provide support. Most commonly, EAPs provide mental-health counselling, referral support, substance abuse assistance, a crisis hotline, financial counselling, and many EAP services are also open to employees’ dependants and family members. However, three-quarters (74 per cent) of respondents said 10 per cent of employees or fewer actually made use of these programs. While low, 46 per cent of employers reported an increase in program usage since 2016 and only eight per cent reported a decrease.

Where substance abuse was concerned, 38 per cent of survey respondents reported increased opioid-related claims over the last year. About two-thirds (69 per cent) of organizations have taken action to combat opioid abuse, most commonly implementing carrier Rx monitoring programs, or a pharmacy benefits manager, requiring prior authorization for outpatient opioid prescriptions in excess of a specified number of days, limiting the number of pills allowed post-surgery and offering alternative pain management.

While 56 per cent of respondents said they don’t really assess the prevalence of mental-health issues and substance abuse in the workplace, some employers have conducted specific analyses. For example, 14 per cent analyzed how these issues affected their health-care costs, nine per cent analyzed how the issues related to behavioural issues and 27 per cent analyzed their prescription drug claims to watch for potential substance abuse.

Read: Specific solutions required to move dial on mental-health treatment, costs