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

A significant disconnect exists between the degree of mental-health problems facing Canadians today, the costs of workplace mental health and the solutions in place to address and reduce those costs.

Organizations are doing more than ever before around workplace mental health, said Georgia Pomaki, leader of Manulife’s mental-health specialists team, at the 2018 Mental Health Summit Vancouver on Dec. 11. But even though there are a lot of initiatives, goodwill and good planning in place, it’s still not enough, she added.

“We need to do more. I think we need to continue the momentum. And why I say there’s a disconnect is because we know that most Canadians with mental-health issues don’t seek treatment for their conditions.”

Read: How to deal with stigma of returning to work after mental-health leave 

According to Pomaki, half of Canadian employees with moderate to severe symptoms of depression don’t seek treatment. “That’s not a good sign. That’s not a good part of our action plans regarding reducing the cost of mental illness in the workplace.”

Specific solutions are required to begin moving the dial towards a reduction in costs, she said.

“It’s important when we have a health condition, mental health or otherwise, that we seek treatments, feel better, have a better handle on our symptoms. We improve our symptoms, we feel better and we’re actually more able to apply ourselves to all aspects of life, including our work life.”

But when it comes to mental health, this is difficult for most people. Employers can make a difference by providing access to treatment that works, said Pomaki. “That’s what we really want. We want to provide access to treatment that has good potential to help an individual dealing with mental-health issues, either at a prevention level or at a crisis level, to help them get a better handle on their symptoms, help them cope better and help them be more focused in the workplace.”

Read: Sounding Board: Balancing employee, employer rights in return-to-work plans

One innovative method to help employees with mental-health issues is the digital delivery of therapy. More than a hundred research studies have looked at the effectiveness of digital delivery, finding it’s as effective — or sometimes even more effective — than face-to-face therapy, said Pomaki. “It’s a cost-effective method of delivery, delivering a treatment that works and is necessary for people’s recovery.”

The second innovative program is providing employees with access to virtual cognitive behavioural therapy, where employees interact with a therapist through a computer or cell phone screen. “It makes available to the employee a care navigator that helps establish some of the more specific behavioural goals,” said Pomaki. “It also helps the learning stick.”

The third program offers employees three types of access to CBT: face to face, virtual and digital with the assistance of a therapist. According to Pomaki,  the option will depend on the symptomatology of the individual going through the assessment and what they prefer as a way to access the treatment.

Read more coverage from the 2018 Mental Health Summit Vancouver