Mental health – is your plan fueling recovery?

March 23, 2023

For business owners, plan sponsors and administrators

If you’ve ever run out of gas and found yourself stranded at the side of the road, even for a short time, you know how frustrating and scary it can be. So, imagine how devastated you’d feel if your benefits coverage for mental health ran out before you’ve returned to a place of wellness in your journey.

When an organization struggles with performance issues, absenteeism, or disability claims related to mental health concerns, it’s possible the coverage in its benefits plan isn’t meeting the needs of employees. And that could mean it’s not meeting the larger goals of the organization, either.

Mental health: The leading diagnosis reported by employees

In the most recent Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey, 22% of plan members surveyed said that they had received a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition in the previous 12 months.1

The survey found that an equal percentage (22%) of plan members described their mental health as being generally poor, compared to only 10% of members who said that their physical health was poor. That means that your organization may have twice as many employees suffering from mental health concerns as compared to those dealing with physical ailments.1

Clearly, it’s in every organization’s best interest to make certain that their programs are fulsome enough to help protect the mental wellbeing of workers. To start, employers can re-visit the coverage that they offer to ensure employees are able to get the mental health supports they need.

Six mental health providers who complement psychiatrists

To better support your employees, consider coverage for these six commonly utilized mental health practitioners. Complementing the care provided by psychiatrists, these six practitioners provide a range of experience, credentials, and qualifications needed to help address most mental health issues (read: A guide to mental health professionals in Canada). They include:

  • Psychologists
  • Social workers
  • Clinical counsellors
  • Psychotherapists
  • Marriage and family therapists, and
  • Psychoanalysts

These practitioners are trained and skilled in different ways, and they bring different backgrounds and experiences to their therapeutic work. Having coverage for this full set of practitioners increases the number of mental health care options for employees and supports them in finding the right provider to address their unique needs. And, because access to psychiatrists can be limited because of long waitlists, broadening access to complementary mental health practitioners can help employees get the support and therapy they need in a timely way.

However, often organizations don’t provide coverage for all these important complementary mental health care providers. Check your coverage and, if your plan doesn’t cover all these providers, that fact could be contributing to unmet needs amongst your employees.

“Finding the right mental health care provider who is a good fit for them will have a significant impact on a patient’s therapeutic journey – and finding the right provider can take some time,” says Manulife’s Medical Director, Dr. Steve Pomedli of Cleveland Clinic Canada. “There are many considerations that come into play: the type of provider, their experience and training, their credentials, and their availability and accessibility – whether in-person or virtual. Aligning on approaches and goals, and having a shared background or primary language, can also be critical. All these factors influence the success of the patient-provider relationship and, in the end, the effectiveness of the course of therapy.”

About coverage and costs. How much is enough?

Today, the median amount of coverage offered by Canadian employers for these types of mental health services is $750.00, an amount that would likely only cover between 3 and 5 sessions of therapy.2 For many individuals, visits with a few different therapists are often required to find a practitioner who is the right fit and who will best meet the patient’s needs.

The Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments and the Canadian Psychology Association found that most people will need between 8 and 20 sessions per year in order to get adequate treatment and support for a diagnosis of depression and/or anxiety. For this number of visits, employees would require between $2,000.00 and $4,000.00 worth of coverage per year.3

If your plan covers only $750.00 for mental health services, your employees will have to pay out-of-pocket to make up for this gap which, for many, will not be financially feasible. This means that they’ll be getting inadequate mental health support, and they may be forced to stop therapy before their mental health needs have been fully addressed.

“Support and therapy for mental health is an ongoing process,” says Dr. Claire Harrigan, a Psychiatrist, and a member of Cleveland Clinic Canada’s Medical Director Program. “Beyond finding the right practitioner, building a successful therapeutic relationship takes time – as does the therapy itself. There can be a significant impact on the success of therapy if it is curtailed or terminated early due to a lack of access or financial resources.”

To truly fuel recovery for your employees who are suffering from mental health concerns and help them arrive at a better place in their mental health journey, talk to your advisor about including coverage for the complementary mental health providers listed above. Include a combined annual maximum for all six of them. That way, you can balance the needs of your employees with good plan management and cost control practices. Most importantly, fewer employees will run out of coverage before they’re on the road to recovery and better overall mental health.

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