4 Ways Small Businesses Can Support Employee Mental Health
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Mental Health is a hot topic these days. It’s increasingly popular for companies and mental health champions to stand up and speak out against the stigma of mental health issues. This is great news except the message hasn’t sparked enough behavior change at the employee level.

The 2019 Sun Life Barometer Report indicates that 60% of Canadian employees with mental health issues don’t access support available though their workplace benefits. And 78% of these employees don’t get help through government funded services.

While there are more than 200 classified mental illnesses, the most common ones affecting Canadians are mood and anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorders and cognitive impairments/dementia. Though stress isn’t a mental illness, chronic stress can lead to depression (which is considered a mood disorder) and anxiety disorders.

Why don’t Canadians with mental health issues get help?

Though we’re talking about mental health more than in previous years, employees are still hesitant to disclose mental health issues at work. A recent RBC Insurance survey found that 48% of Canadians would be reluctant to admit they have a mental health issue to their boss or colleagues. And 27% wouldn’t disclose this information at all; in contrast, only 10% of employees wouldn’t disclose a physical illness to their boss or colleagues.

This same survey found there are four main reasons employees won’t (or are reluctant to) disclose mental health issues at work:

  • They believe there’s a public stigma around mental illness
  • They don’t want to be treated differently
  • They don’t want to be judged
  • They’re afraid of consequences like losing their job

Employees may believe that to get the help available through their employee benefits program, they need to disclose their issues at work, but this simply isn’t true. Employers can’t force employees to disclose health concerns, but they can do a better job letting employees know about how to get help for mental health issues. This is the right thing to do for employees and the bottom line.

The costs of mental illness in Canada

A recent Conference Board of Canada report concludes that improving treatment of depression among employed Canadians could potentially boost Canada’s economy by up to $32.3 billion a year, while improved treatment of anxiety could boost the economy by up to $17.3 billion a year (Sutherland and Stonebridge 2016). The Globe and Mail reports that. “mental health issues cost businesses almost $1,500 per employee per year.”

Did you know that 20% of Canadians experience mental illness in any given year? Many small businesses simply don’t have the manpower to handle lost productivity due to symptoms of poor mental health such as absenteeism and presenteeism. Proactively supporting employee mental health helps small businesses minimize the risk of lost productivity due to mental health issues.

Four ways small businesses can support employee mental health:

  • Communicate well and often about your employee benefits plan – Make sure your employees know they have a plan and how to access mental health services through their plan. With the Benefit Wallet, for example, employees can use their healthcare spending account (HSA) to access mental health professionals like psychiatrists, psychologists and psychoanalysts. Employees can use their wellness spending account (WSA) on stress management programs, alternate wellness services and exercise classes (research shows that exercise improves symptoms of depression and anxiety).Keep mental health and your employee benefits top of mind with advertising. Consider using posters at work, fridge magnets that highlight mental health support options (your employee assistance program or the local distress center, for example), lunch and learns, pay stub inserts, text messages and putting all employee benefits information on your intranet (where it’s easy to find).
  • Build a culture of wellness – Mental health isn’t simply the absence of mental illness; it’s about emotional, psychological and social well-being. Think carefully about what kind of environment and culture you’d like to cultivate in your small business and work towards that. To learn more about how to build a culture of wellness, read the Forbes article, How You Can Nurture A Culture Of Wellness.

  • Talk to BeniPlus about virtual mental health – We can offer virtual mental health assistance through our partner, Tia Health. Tia Health connects people to virtual doctors based on symptoms and medical history. We can help you decide whether to add Tia Health to your employee benefits program.
  • Create a helpful back-to-work program – When employees are returning to work after a short or long absence, it’s best to incorporate flexibility into the program. This can include modified work schedules and duties, work-from-home days and open communications. For more information about how to create a mental health return-to-work program, read the Canadian Center for Occupational Health & Safety guide here.

97.9% of businesses in Canada are small businesses—imagine what would happen if they all decided to make mental health part of their business wellness plan! If you’re ready to offer your employees a simple, flexible and affordable group benefits program to support their mental health, take 10 minutes today to get a quote.

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