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Act early, build culture, modernize benefits to support employee mental health


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Marc Avaria, Vice President Product and Disability Management at Medavie Blue Cross, contributed to the latest issue of Benefits and Pensions Monitor. Marc provided an insightful perspective on how organizations can protect employee mental health and prevent issues from escalating to the disability stage by intervening early, creating a supportive culture and modernizing benefit plans to include new health care technologies and innovations.

“As mental health in the workplace becomes more commonplace, many companies are considering the best ways to respond and provide support for employees who may be experiencing early signs of anxiety, depression or other related issues – especially before things reach the stage of disability leave,” says Marc.

Case in Point:

Working with Medaca Health Group to provide our claimants with timely access to top psychiatric care, Medavie Blue Cross has seen wait times for a referral drop to three weeks — or eight days on average — compared to the national average of 6-12 months, depending on urban-rural location. We have also seen a 28% reduction in the average duration of a short-term disability claim as a result of our partnership with Medaca to provide early psychiatric intervention services to claimants with a mental health diagnosis.

Marc’s Key Recommendations

1. Build a supportive culture and increase engagement from leaders

Marc says supporting employees with potential mental health concerns, earlier in the process, often starts with building a culture and environment where individuals feel safe discussing their mental health with a manager.

He added that since the pandemic, there is an even greater demand for company leaders to be more involved on the frontlines. Leaders need to listen to individual employee concerns, such as work-life balance and other stressors in the workplace; encourage mental health days and self-care strategies; review existing employee assistance programs and consider ways to enhance them; provide access to programs that promote wellbeing; and help employees understand what benefits are available to them to better navigate and self-manage their health.

2. Maximize modern benefits plans to enable better access to mental health care, earlier

Marc lists internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy (iCBT), or digital therapy, pharmacogenetic testing, or personalized medicine, plus a wider range of virtual services and mental health practitioners as options employers can choose to add to their benefit plan. These offerings help employees get mental health supports, faster and in a more convenient way — often from the privacy and comfort of their home.

“Innovative services and digital solutions can become part of a continuum of workplace mental health support. Having these services as part of an employee benefits plan can work hand-in-hand with having a supportive, resilient company culture and engaged leaders. These approaches can see workers engaged from the earliest signs of a mental health concern, supported in identifying the issue they are experiencing, and led down the path to getting the necessary help." - Marc Avaria

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Medavie Blue Cross

For over 75 years, Medavie Blue Cross has been a leading health services partner for individuals, employers...