Stress, aging population driving up mental-health claims

With 44 per cent of Canadian workers experiencing mental-health issues and mental health the fastest growing and leading cause of disability claims, benefits plans are feeling the strain.

“The numbers are staggering in terms of what we’re seeing and the continual growth of this as an issue,” said Rebecca Smith, director of group life and disability services at Medavie Blue Cross, at Benefits Canada’s 2018 Mental Health Summit Toronto on Nov. 12.

Read: Majority of Canadians suffering from a mental-health issue, sleeping disorder: survey

The strain on benefits plans includes a growth in individuals making claims and a rise in spending on counselling, she said, attributing the rise in mental-health issues to an increasingly stressed population and a greater awareness of mental illness. “We talk about it more, we hear about it more in the news, we hear about it more in the workplace,” said Smith. “We’re more aware and more likely to get treatment.” 

The aging population is also a factor, she said, noting aging carries a risk of depression and chronic disease. But millennials are more likely to reach out for support, since that generation has a reduced stigma when it comes to mental health.

“All of this is obviously having an impact on employers,” said Smith. “Significant costs associated not only with the use of the medications and counselling being driven through their plans, but they’re also losing about $56 billion annually as a result of absenteeism and presenteeism.”

The good news, according to Smith, is employers are aware of the issue, so they’re responding to the trends and are willing to invest in mental well-being in their workplaces.

Read: Lessons from Australia, England in addressing access to mental-health care

“As employers, we want to do the right thing,” she said. “We have an issue in our health-care system, though. When we look at that ability to get access in Canada, we’ve got a few things working against us as barriers. There’s the cost associated with some of the resources individuals need. There is the inconvenience. For some locations, it’s very hard to get access to that care. And then there still is a lingering stigma for mental health.”

Technology, such as instant messaging and virtual doctor visits, can help people access care more efficiently, she added. “When we look at technology, the keys there are to get people access to care faster, to get it cheaper and be more proactive in getting that care for individuals.”

Read more coverage from the 2018 Mental Health Summit.