Why You Should Re-evaluate the Mental Health Practitioners in Your Health Benefits Plan

There has never been a more important time to talk about mental health than right now. The statistics illustrating the state of mental health among Canadians make it evident that something needs to be done. In a study conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, 1 in 3 (36%) Canadians indicated that they are struggling with their mental health, with many identifying as feeling fatigued (48%), frustrated (40%), anxious (37%) and depressed (23%).

And when we’re talking about solutions to mental health, one of the first things that need to be considered are the benefits that employees receive from their employers. You’ll want to make sure that you include a diverse range of mental health practitioners to choose from as part of their benefits plan.

Mental Health Supports in Demand

For employers, the costs of employees dealing with mental health issues are increasing. The impact of decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and increased presenteeism (being ‘at work but not at work’) is significant, costing Canadian employers approximately $6 billion annually. Mental illness also accounts for 70% of overall workplace disability costs in Canada.

Despite increased awareness of the importance of mental health, the fiscal cost and challenges to employee wellness, employers are falling behind in their support for employees experiencing decreased mental health. According to a study conducted by the Ontario Association of Social Workers (OASW), mental health supports in benefits are lacking in Ontario, with only 1 in 3 (36%) employees saying they have mental health supports, while 9 in 10 (89%) state that it’s important for employers to add them to their benefits packages.

Benefits Canada released a report that will hopefully educate and enlighten employers on just how quickly funds allocated to mental health counselling and other services are used up. While the current median benefit coverage for counselling is roughly $750 – this can be used up in a handful of sessions (with the average cost per session with a clinical psychologist, this is roughly 3 sessions), but typically 10-20 sessions is the recommended short-term treatment duration. For the small group market the amount of average coverage is even lower – usually $500 or less.

Hope is on the Horizon

Over the next 3 years, 67% of plan sponsors have said that they will be investing more in wellness resources outside of their existing benefits plans, with 51% focusing their investments on tools and resources for better emotional and mental health benefits for their employees.

While these numbers are stated, and unfortunately don’t always come to fruition, it shows that employers are listening, aware, and that they’re considering options to offer their employees more support.

It’s your job as the advisor to sell the idea.

By focusing a portion of your plan specifically on mental health benefits, you can create an easy resource for plan members to refer to, with a positive message being sent to both employees and employers. Employees can clearly see the thoughtfulness put into the plan and the care for their wellbeing, while employers help their employees manage their mental health, ensure profitability, productivity, and create a positive working environment.

Diversification is Key

In the past, the types of mental health practitioners that were included in health benefits coverage were limited, mostly to one or maybe two types of paramedical professionals. But it’s important to diversify the types of licensed mental health practitioners covered in benefits plans.

Each type of mental health professional can be specialized in supporting different types of illnesses, conditions, and circumstances, and they also specialize in different forms of treatment. Employers should ensure they’re offering a diversified roster of the types of mental wellness professionals so employees are supported with the practitioner who can best help them. Some of these include:

Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health, allowing them to diagnose illnesses and provide psychotherapy treatments. They’re also licensed to provide treatments using medication, therapy, or both. They may provide individual or family therapy, as well as prescribe medications for depression, anxiety, and other conditions. Psychiatrists will also collaborate with other mental health and medical professionals on a patient’s treatment plan.

Psychologists

Psychologists are also licensed to provide diagnosis and psychotherapy, but they don’t prescribe medications. They may collaborate with psychiatrists and other mental health and medical professionals on treatment plans that involve medication.

Psychotherapists

A psychotherapist’s primary focus is on therapeutic treatment of mental health illnesses. They are trained to assess and treat patients in this manner, and they cannot prescribe medication. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychotherapists are all considered regulated healthcare professionals.

Social Workers

Social workers are regulated professionals who provide counseling services to patients and their families, with their primary focus on providing tools and techniques to teach and nurture daily functional living skills. Social workers have training in a variety of areas including marriage counseling, grief counseling, and substance abuse treatment, to name just a few.

Build a Better Plan for a Healthier, Happier Workforce

At The Benefits Trust, we help advisors build better health benefits plans for their clients. Not only do we offer a wealth of knowledge and resources on how to do that – we also offer flexible plan options to help you create a solid support system of mental health services within client plans.

If budget is limited, it’s possible you may need to get creative with how your client distributes their benefits. For example, if your client experiences higher turnover rates, they could exclusively offer tiers of benefits as employee years of service increase to 3, 5, and 10 years.

We can help you Build Your Own Employee Benefits Plan, and offer a range of supportive plan components like Employee Assistance Plans (EAPs) that really help in driving the most value for your benefits dollars.

Contact us today – we’re experts in helping successful business owners build a better benefits plan than they could get anywhere else, and we’re happy to discuss employee benefits options with you.

Photo courtesy of Total Shape

Robert Crowder

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