There are many different approaches an organization can take in addressing the mental health of its plan members. With last week being Mental Health Awareness Week, this month’s Beyond Benefits article will focus on the past, present, and future of mental health as it pertains to benefits plans.
Why mental health? Why now?
Mental health is certainly not new, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the need for employers to address both their employees’ and their family’s mental well-being. In discussion with Mira, pre-pandemic, it was far more common for plan sponsors to either not have a strategy for mental health at all or, in many cases, treat things as a “random acts of wellness” approach that was not tied to an overall strategy. Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EFAPs) were already predominant, with some carriers embedding them in their standard offering, while others charged an additional fee. However, utilization remained low, often due to lack of communication around the offering.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, it took a major event to drive the much-needed change we’re seeing today. As benefits advisors, we’re happy with the direction we see things going and believe this important shift in strategy is here to stay.
Now that we’re more than a year into the pandemic, we have real data to work with and unsurprisingly, it supports the need for a shift in philosophy around mental health. Below are some data points that jumped out at us from a recent poll commissioned by CMHA:
- Only one-third of Ontarians (35%) consider their current state of mental health as 'very good' or 'excellent'
- More than half of Ontarians (57%) are lonelier since the start of the pandemic, almost half (47%) wish they had someone to talk to, and more than a third (36%) say they are often, very often or almost always lonely
- More than one-quarter of Ontarians (27%) are using more substances to cope (up from 21% in the summer)
- 36% of Ontarians say they're experiencing very high or high stress (up from 30% in the summer)
- 17% say they're always or very often depressed (up from 13% in May)
Keeping these in mind, we’ve asked Mira Levine, our partner from Inkblot Therapy, some questions about what she has been seeing, as well as her recommendations.
What are the three most common inquiries you’re getting from clients during the pandemic?
“The most common inquiry we have been getting from prospects and new clients over the past year is for long-term support. Employers are recognizing that their traditional short-term EFAPs are not providing the appropriate level of care needed to support employees during this extremely difficult time. Employers are also looking for digital-first access versus the traditional telephonic intake.
Another common inquiry is for mental health support for plan members’ children, with a significant increase in the need for youth resources. We are hearing from plan members directly with children at home who are struggling with depression and anxiety. It’s very evident that such increases negatively impact plan members and their ability to truly be present and effective at work.
Thirdly, requests for manager mental health training have also been very popular. Inkblot continues to bolster this area of expertise because more than ever, it is important for managers to be able to properly support their staff through the many challenges they’re facing due to the pandemic.”
Outside of a solution like Inkblot, what additional approaches have you seen? What would you recommend employers prioritize?
“Understanding the negative impact it can have on a group’s claims experience, as more people are utilizing mental health benefits, it’s important to ask your insurance carrier to include multiple different designations under your plan. Having multiple designations included allows your employees to see a wide range of clinicians depending on their specific needs.
We’re seeing plan sponsors who are fully vested in improving their strategy on mental health and, for the first time, introduce unlimited counselling within their program. Whether it be through the core insurance plan, HSA expansion or simply pre-funding mental health solutions, there’s a lot that can be done to bolster what’s available to plan members.”
How can you get started?
More and more companies are looking to provide these additional resources because they believe that the ROI is well worth it. If your budget doesn’t allow for such an approach, we will work with you to find a solution that does work for your organization.
Within the coming months, Humi Marketplace will continue to expand by showcasing other provider solutions that have a specific focus on things like addiction counselling and mindfulness as well as other physical therapy based solutions. Members of our Humi Benefits Team are always available to chat through your mental health strategy, and we look forward to bringing many more solutions to the table for those of you who are interested.
Want to speak with someone directly?
We’re here for you. Reach out to us at email@example.com for additional assistance.