In conversation with Christine Husbands and Debra Clark on anxiety and self-awareness

During Mental Health Awareness Week (15th-21st May), Christine Husbands, RedArc commercial director and Debra Clark, Towergate Health & Protection head of wellbeing, discuss anxiety and the importance of self-help apps.

Related topics:  mental health,  Awareness
Tabitha Lambie | Editorial Assistant, Protection Reporter
15th May 2023
woman smiling at a mobile phone
"Ideally, this should comprise a mix of support, including lighter-touch apps and platforms to help individuals manage their day-to-day mental health, as well as support from dedicated mental health practitioners when a more serious concern is flagged."
- Christine Husbands, RedArc commercial director

According to research conducted by Towergate Health & Protection, 49% of employers are most concerned about employee mental health, followed by financial health (30%), and physical health (30%). Only 14% of employers surveyed said they had no health and wellbeing-related concerns about their employees, notably after the specialist adviser firm found that over 70% of employers don’t offer wellbeing days and only 22% provide access to in-person counselling less than a month ago.

At the time, Debra Clark felt this demonstrated that “a careful mix of incentives, health and wellbeing support [was] fundamental” as employees continue to experience the ongoing effects of the Pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis.

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week will be exploring anxiety after a survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation found that 25% of adults feel that anxiety prevents them from fulfilling day-to-day tasks some or all the time. Similar research conducted by Nuffield Health found that 35% of UK employees who called in sick this year due to poor mental health, deliberately gave another reason. Although this is 4% lower than Nuffield Health’s 2022 report, the healthcare charity feels stigma is still a major barrier for people talking about their mental health at work.

Discussing how to tackle anxiety and the importance of self-help apps, Christine Husbands, highlighted that it’s important to recognise anxiety as “not necessarily a mental health disorder that needs clinically diagnosing, nor does it necessarily need treating” and that “not every negative feeling is a mental health concern.”

“Life is, at times, sad and stressful, but stress is not always anxiety, and sadness is not necessarily depression,” she explained, which is why good mental health support needs to help people recognise and normalise these reactions as well as develop healthy coping mechanisms and understand when to seek medical support when needed. That said, Husbands sympathised with those struggling to access primary care services due to NHS delays, making a point to highlight the importance of added-value services which can be accessed either through an individual or group policy.

READ MORE: RedArc issue second NHS-related warning in 3 months

“Ideally, this should comprise a mix of support, including lighter-touch apps and platforms to help individuals manage their day-to-day mental health, as well as support from dedicated mental health practitioners when a more serious concern is flagged,” she continued.

Overall, Husbands felt that “as an industry, it is crucial that we help people learn how to help themselves since it isn’t helpful to over-medicalise every human emotion.” But equally, clinical support needs to be available when self-help is unsuccessful, or when genuine concern is raised. “This is undoubtedly a challenge but something for insurers, employers and the industry as a whole, to strive for,” Husbands concluded.

Debra Clark also felt that not every negative feeling is a mental health concern, explaining that “everyone has different thresholds of tolerance to emotions and situations.” Clark believes that “people will react in different ways, but most people will want to improve their resilience themselves,” suggesting webinars, top-tip communications, and shared experiences to help build education and understanding.

Supporting Husbands’ call for “lighter-touch apps and platforms,” Clark explained that “doing this via a platform can really be beneficial, especially when we consider how disparate workforces can be.” She felt that “having [these resources] on your laptop or phone so that it’s easy to access could make support much more impactful,” as well as allow companies to signpost external services and support group more effectively.

Clark also noted that “many insurance policies now include added-value services, which [could] help with aspects of wellbeing, including emotional wellbeing,” but she believes “they can be hidden within the policy, so bringing these to the fore [could] be really beneficial to companies, their employees, and sometimes family members as well.”

“Of course, there are situations, conditions and times when a person needs more than self-help to build their resilience and personal coping mechanisms,” Clark continued, highlighting that “it doesn’t matter how great the support you offer is if none of your employees know how to access it.”

“Communication is key – keeping it structured and regular, easy to spot, well branded, bite-sized so it’s easier to digest, and in different formats which appeal to different personality types, different roles and different working locations, will be critical to ensuring everyone is fully aware of what is available,” she concluded.

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