The importance of 'keeping up' with mental health initiatives

TELUS Health's Paula Allen says simplifying access to care and creating a supportive workplace environment can ensure a healthy business for employers

The importance of 'keeping up' with mental health initiatives
Paula Allen, global leader and vice-president of research and insights at TELUS Health

Over the past decade, there has been a significant evolution in the approach to mental health in the workplace. Paula Allen, global leader and vice-president of research and insights at TELUS Health, says while the stigma around mental health has improved, employers have found it hard to keep up with employees’ wellbeing.

“It’s not just about improving. It’s about improving, and keeping up,” she said. It’s no surprise that Allen points to COVID playing a big part in escalating these challenges.

“Our mental health index has shown the level of complexity over the past four years, which means there's more than one issue. It's not a situational issue, it's something ongoing,” she explains. “We have people working and coming into work every day who have real impairments that they're working against like brain fog, lethargy and social isolation.”

“As a result of COVID, we've moved a lot of people who were sort of moderately at-risk and moved into a high-risk category and some people who were at low-risk moved into moderate-risk and are much more sensitive to stress,” she added. “They’re a little bit more prone to anger, a little bit more prone to cynicism and a little bit more vulnerable in terms of how they're interacting with other people. There’s more complexity but we're dealing with that.”

Allen said it's becoming more important for employers to make it simpler for people to get access to care for any complex issues that an employee faces. As an example, she points to TELUS Health’s Workplace Strategy Index for Mental Health and Total Mental Health as a few of their resources to help employees deal with their complexity.

With the introduction of such strategies, employers are increasingly focusing on workplace environments. She noted it’s important for organizations to take on leadership training for mental health, especially those in managerial positions. “Manager training is sort of the one key thing that comes from workplace environments. We’ve found that about 40 percent of managers are really struggling with their sense of competence in dealing with demand and the emotional issues of their staff. They're quite anxious,” said Allen.

As a potential solution, employers should promote their respective Employee Assistance Plan (EAP). Additionally, they can look to digital wellness and wellbeing programs that facilitate team bonding which can cause employees “to strive together to the best of their personal ability in developing habits that are good for their physical health, good for their mental health, good for their financial health, and good for their social health,” Allen highlighted.

Allen is quick to point out that organizations might not even realize the slightest impact they have in providing people with employment. “It allows people to learn, interact with others and have access to benefits. That's not only life changing, but also really impactful. We're talking about creating environments where human beings can be at their best, which obviously helps the business be at their best.”

While the approach to mental health in the workplace has evolved significantly, Allen says simplifying access to care and dealing with technology advancement like AI will be crucial to address the increasing complexity of mental health issues. In addition to that, by creating supportive environments, leveraging digital platforms and ensuring clear communication, employers can better support the mental health of their employees and improve overall business performance.

“Your business is not going to do as well as it can if you don't maintain a healthy workplace,” she said. “Even if you have limited services, talk about them, communicate them. Make sure the people know.”