The cost of a crisis: mental illness in the workplace

A mental health strategy that includes access to the right medications can make a positive difference

One in five Canadians will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. For many, it will happen while they’re working1. Yet a significant portion of workers who experience mental illness don’t access mental health treatment2

When employees experience mental illness, the consequences for their employers include reduced productivity, lost hours, and larger numbers of disability claims. What’s more – the impact is felt by nearly all employers across all industries.

Shifting the focus to prevention and recognition

According to Express Scripts Canada’s 2015 Drug Trend Report, depression is the fourth most expensive therapy class of drug3.

Many mental illnesses aren’t dealt with until they have already had a major impact. Mental illness is among the first reasons why employees take disability leave, accounting for 19 per cent of short‑term disability and 28 per cent of long‑term disability claims4

A major challenge is that many people suffering from mental illnesses aren’t seeking the help they need until it’s too late. Some don’t seek treatment at all. For example, a Canadian study shows that only half of workers suffering from depression received some form of treatment5.

But would greater employee awareness make a difference? Research shows that it does. When employees recognize the need for treatment, productivity losses are reduced by one third6, and having access to treatment can improve job retention and reduce absenteeism by two weeks per year on average7.

Early diagnosis and treatment can represent significant cost savings for plan sponsors, leading to:

  • Fewer costs for replacing employees on disability leave
  • Lower disability premiums overall
  • Improved employee health, engagement and productivity

Through earlier awareness, diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses, plan sponsors can find significant cost savings. For some employees, it may lead to a shorter road to recovery.

Medication adherence also plays a critical role

According to the World Health Organization, patients greatly increase their chances of relapsing when they fail to stick to their medication for up to 9-12 months’ post-recovery from the point they start to feel better. Anywhere from 24 to 90 per cent of mental illness patients do not adhere to their prescribed medication, often because they feel that the immediate side effects outweigh the immediate benefits8 . For example, some patients taking antidepressants experience side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, headaches and changes in appetite when they first begin their medications.

Patient education is critical to improving adherence, but programs offered through workplace insurance plans can help. Disability case managers can help employees learn about appropriate treatments and how to ask their doctors the right questions. On the pharmacy side, discussions with a pharmacist and access to credible self-serve health and drug resources can provide more information on patients’ conditions as well as the medications they need to take, leading to an improved recovery process and more sustained job performance.

Thanks to innovations in pharmacogenetics – the use of genetic tests to help predict an individual’s response to a drug – prescribers may now have help selecting the optimal drugs for their patients. A study led by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto is currently examining how patients’ genetic variations can influence responses to different mental health medications.

Supporting members … and your bottom line

Since medications play such a critical role in treating mental illness, drug plans should be designed to support employees in maintaining their mental health.

Manulife recognizes the challenges of finding optimal drug therapies for members with mental health concerns. To meet these challenges, our drug plans are designed to help remove barriers to accessing these medications, which is why you don’t see mental health drugs listed in our step therapy programs or prior authorization.

Our drug plans can help support members on the road to mental wellness when combined with our other programs and tools, including our Workplace Solutions for Mental Health employee website and manager training program, Resilience Employee & Family Assistance Program and our Health eLinks database. 

Manulife has also established an industry-first team of mental health professionals with extensive clinical experience who work closely with our disability support teams to help reduce both the time plan members spend off work as well as their chances of relapse, once back on the job.

Improving the ways in which mental health is managed in the workplace and helping employees bring their best to work each day can help you protect your bottom line. This is why Manulife’s mental health strategy targets prevention and early intervention, while also supporting members from disability through to return to work. We’re committed to providing you with solutions to help you create a healthy work environment.

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