Mental Health Awareness Week: Bringing the data to life and looking at the wider picture

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19th May) and across the industry, the message has been that mental health underpins all other aspects of health & wellbeing.

Related topics:  Mental Health Awareness Week,  Burnout
Tabitha Lambie | Editor, Protection Reporter
16th May 2024
Mental Health
"It’s critical for businesses to deploy regular, effective, and varied communication about workplace employee health and wellbeing benefits and other supportive policies available."
- Adrian Matthews, Head of Employee Benefits at MetLife UK

According to data analysis from RedArc, 30% of new child referrals in 2023 were for mental health and the number of referrals for mental health amongst children increased by 42%.

Parents and guardians often have access to support for dependants via health & wellbeing benefits including protection, group risk, Private Medical Insurance (PMI), General Insurance (GI), Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), and Cash Plans. In many cases, children don’t need to be named on their parents’ policy to access the support available.

Unfortunately, RedArc has come across dependants discovering they have access to these services after a long and frustrating wait for alternative solutions, with many wishing they’d known sooner.

“Particularly with the pressure of the NHS, we’ve seen an increasing number of enquiries for areas such as getting a diagnosis for a child who appears to have a mental health condition, or supporting a child with an ongoing problem,” explained Christine Husbands, Commercial Director at RedArc. In many cases, children are registered on waiting lists and the parent or guardian is doing their best to cope with their symptoms without understanding the root cause or how to access support.

Christine said: “When children are having a tough time, it can have a considerable impact on their parents and guardians too. Indeed, in some cases, parents can have their health compromised when they are worried about a child.”

RedArc highlighted that when mental health conditions are untreated during childhood, it can cause developmental problems in adolescence, and impaired mental health later in life. Therefore, support should be available from clinically trained professionals with specialist knowledge.

It should also include access to other types of support, such as the ability to organise structured therapy or counselling suitable for children, support in getting a second opinion, and guidance to navigate the NHS and local charities.

Meanwhile, Towergate Health & Protection emphasised that mental health underpins all other aspects of health & wellbeing, so employers should prioritise support for their staff. It’s well reported that people with good mental health are more productive, loyal, and less absent from work. According to the Health and Safety Executive, conditions such as stress, depression, and anxiety accounted for the most days lost due to work-related ill health or injury in 2022-23.

“Wellbeing is supported by four pillars: mental, financial, physical, and social. They’re all intrinsically linked and if an employee is experiencing challenges with one aspect, it’s likely to impact more areas of their overall wellbeing,” explained Debra Clark, Head of Wellbeing at Towergate Health & Protection.

“Some say that mental health underpins everything to do with a person’s health & wellbeing and, therefore, any mental health issue will impact an employee in their workplace,” she added.

Towergate suggests that companies without employee benefits (that include mental health support) should invest as a matter of urgency. “If companies have a benefits programme, then Mental Health Awareness Week provides a good opportunity to remind staff what is available to them and how to access it,” Debra explained.

According to the latest data from Canada Life’s MyStrength app, 75% of users experienced improvements in their overall mental health. Almost two thirds (64%) were able to cope better and 62% were less anxious in the workplace. Jo Turner, Head of Product & Proposition for Group Protection at Canada Life, thinks that “Encouraging open dialogue and promoting employee benefits will go a long way in demonstrating you care as an employer.”

Jo said: “This Mental Health Awareness Week, employers must prioritise the wellbeing of their employees and ensure they’re all able to access mental health support. For some, that might be the opportunity for open dialogue with friends, family, colleagues, or professionals.”

She believes it’s especially important for employers to invest in employee benefits since the “ongoing effects of the Cost-of-Living Crisis and geopolitical unknowns are having a significant toll on the nation’s mental wellbeing […] headlines aren’t shying away from the fact that this is all impacting the mental health of our workforce, with long-term sick leave at a record high.”

Last year, Legal & General’s (L&G) EAP saw an 87% surge in mental health consultations with employees making up the bulk of that usage. Only 3% of interactions came from managers. In particular, presentations of anxiety had increased to almost one in three people. Fortunately, clinical outcomes show that from pre-counselling to post-counselling, on average, employees experience a 59% reduction in low mood, anxiety, and distress.

Meanwhile, L&G’s end-of-year report revealed 74% more interest in ‘digital detox’ content and 34% in ‘goal setting’. Interest in ‘reducing stress’ had also grown, accounting for 18% of all mediations with L&G’s ‘Be Calm’ services. Notably, ‘sleep aid’ now makes up a third of all employee mediations. “Perceived stress and sleep difficulties are two experiences associated with anxiety and distress, so it’s great to see employees are accessing material that’s proactive for their wellbeing,” said Jenni Watson, Mental Health Promotion Officer at Spectrum.Life.

In support of employee mental health, L&G’s Protection Wellbeing Advisory Board recently introduced a new burnout prevention approach centred on a wellbeing partnership between employers and employees. The Board said this collaborative approach provides intermediaries with a roadmap for a process that aims to ensure maximum effectiveness in helping customers reduce and prevent burnout while improving wellbeing.

According to the latest research commissioned by MetLife, almost three in five (59%) employees in the UK said they haven’t taken time off work due to ill-health or injury, despite needing to. When asked why they’d failed to call in sick, 36% said they didn’t think there was anyone to cover them, followed by not wanting to miss work (28%), and having a deadline to meet (16%).

Adrian Matthews, Head of Employee Benefits at MetLife UK, said “Stress, declining productivity, and a lack of engagement are all common signs of employee burnout. And with two in five employees citing this as a reason to call in sick, this could easily spiral into a larger problem which employers and managers need to pay careful attention to.”

He believes that taking time off should be encouraged in the workplace since it’s vital to balancing home and work commitments while preserving mental health.

Adrian said: “Burnout can have potentially long-lasting effects, so even for those who may have changed their employers, it’s important that individuals take time for themselves to focus on their mental wellbeing.”

“But it’s also important for employers to consider whether there are bigger issues at the root […] sick days can quickly stack up and could cost businesses significantly, from productivity deterioration, money, and potential long-term retention issues,” he added.

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