‘Affordability’ main barrier to mental health support

Workers claim 'cost' as the major barrier to accessing employee assistance programs and mental health support

‘Affordability’ main barrier to mental health support

After reaching its peak in July, the mental health score of workers in Canada declined more than half a point in August 2023, to 64.6, says the ‘TELUS Mental Health Index.’

An alarming two-in-five workers in Canada are unfamiliar with the purpose of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) - also known as an Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) - and what it offers, says the Index. Importantly, workers who report being familiar with an EAP and what it offers have a higher mental health score than those who do not. The Index also finds that despite no cost to workers, more than 27 percent cite cost as a major barrier in using EAPs.

“EAPs provide a wealth of mental health resources and support for employees and their families, but the fact that 40 percent of workers don't understand the purpose of these programs creates a significant gap in utilization,” says Juggy Sihota, chief growth officer, TELUS Health. “While EAPs have existed for a long time, we also cannot assume employees understand how to access or use them. Companies can demonstrate stronger support for their employees' wellbeing by offering a steady stream of education and information about EAPs to address this gap, to help drive utilization, and to increase productivity.”

The Index finds that underutilization of EAPs is directly linked to lack of awareness among employees. Among workers who would not use or don’t think they would use an EAP, 34 per cent do not know what it covers, 23 percent are concerned about confidentiality, and 21 percent do not know how to access the service.

Thirty-five percent of workers are familiar with an EAP and what it covers. Workers who know what an EAP is and what it offers have the highest mental health score (66.3), nearly three points higher than workers who do not know what an EAP (63.5) is and nearly two points higher than the national average (64.6).

Affordability main barrier to mental health support

Nearly one-third of workers report affordability as the main barrier to accessing mental health support, followed by lack of available care and long wait times. Workers under 40 are 80 percent more likely than workers over 50 to have reported affordability as a barrier to accessing mental health support.

The mental health scores of workers reporting affordability as a barrier to accessing mental health support is more than 23 points lower than workers reporting no barriers or no need for support. Parents are 40 percent more likely than non-parents to have reported affordability as a barrier to accessing mental health support.

“When people become aware of the opportunity to access free, confidential counselling through an EAP, they are often thrilled. They also deeply appreciate the support their organization provides for this service,” says Paula Allen, global leader, research & client insights, TELUS Health. “Many are not aware that the offerings in an EAP extend far beyond counseling to include resources like financial, legal and family support, as well as round-the-clock crisis support available throughout the year.”

For more than one year, the lowest Mental Health Index sub-score continues to be anxiety (58.2). Isolation (60.6), depression (63.3), work productivity (63.6), optimism (66.1), and financial risk (68.1) follow. General psychological health (72.1) continues to be the most favourable mental health measure in August, while anxiety and isolation have been the lowest mental health sub-scores for 16 consecutive months. All mental health sub-scores have declined over July 2023, with the financial risk score declining most significantly at 1.7 points) from July.