One of the most significant consequences of the Covid-crisis could be an epidemic of mental health problems, that is unlikely to be relieved by a vaccine in the near future.
This was the stark warning delivered at Corporate Adviser’s Workplace Protection digital conference, which was looking at how workplaces can build back better following the coronavirus pandemic.
The extent of this problem was set out by Optima Health professional head of mental health services Andrew Kinder who told delegates at the summit these problems were widespread and set to worsen.
As part of his job Kinder, a qualified psychologist, works via employer assistance programmes (EAPs) and occupational health programmes to deliver interventions to those suffering a range of mental health problems, including stress, anxiety and depression.
He said the company has not seen problems as widespread as this before. He warned though that there was a strong link between financial difficulties and mental health and as a result he’d expect this problem to worsen, particularly when the furlough scheme ends and with unemployment continues to rise.
Kinder says: “Even employees who have not been badly affected by the pandemic, and may still be in their job, may have money worries, particularly if financial difficulties and debt are affecting family members. We are likely to see a debt wave cascade through the country, and we just at the beginning of this at present.”
He says this highlighted the need for employers and insurers to look at products and propositions that tackle financial wellbeing as well as wider mental health issues.
Premier Choice Group managing director Claire Ginnelly agreed that this pandemic can precipitated a global mental health crisis. However she says that she had been impressed with the level of support already delivered by both medical and group risk insurers.
“Insurers have stepped up their game. There are a lot of good tools to help advisers and employers, and they have ensured these can be accessed remotely.”
As she points out many employee benefit consultants and employers are not experts in mental health so these additional resources have been invaluable.
Axa Health mental health lead Eugene Farrell agrees that this pandemic has put a “spotlight” on the mental health problems that were already affecting many in the workplace and has resulted in more employers talking about this critical issue.
He pointed to recent research from the Institute of Employment Studies which showed that more than one in two (56 per cent) of UK workers had not received any advice from employers, and — more worryingly — that 85 per cent of employers did not see mental health as a priority.
The Covid crisis may shift these figures, he says. But Farrell says the insurers experience with their own clients has been very different, with interest from companies in how to upskill line managers and support employees. “There has been a lot of discussion around issues of anxiety and depression that remains above pre-Covid levels.”
Insurers and consultants welcomed the shift towards digital health solutions. Kinder says: “We have been bowled over by the success of these services.” He points out that traditionally therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy, or bereavement support was traditionally only delivered in a face-to-face setting.
But he says these have been successful delivered via video. “It has demonstrated what can be done,” he says.
Ginnelly adds that while these services have been allowed access to support and help during the pandemic she points out that they are not suitable for everyone. “In the same way, it is important to remember that working from home does not suit everyone: people may not have the technology or the space, may have difficulties with childcare or being in relationships where there is conflict.”
She says insurers need to provide a range of services and consultants can work with employers to ensure the most suitable range of options. However Kinder adds that those who do not provide remote support services are likely to get left behind in a post-Covid environment.
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