In the fast-paced world we live in, mental health and wellbeing has taken centre stage, and for good reason. Recent reports from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and the government’s mental health plan discussion paper have shed light on the escalating concerns surrounding mental health.

With a staggering 4.6 million referrals to mental health services in 2022, a 22% surge from 2019 [BMA] and NHS waiting times at an all-time-high, it’s clear that this can quickly become a critical issue for employers if support is not given to their workforce. Taking proactive steps through early intervention and readily accessible services, can help empower employees and ensure they receive the care they need while reducing absenteeism and easing the burden on the NHS.

Soaring mental health concerns

The NHS is overwhelmed with record-long waiting times meaning there is a backlog for non-urgent treatment, such as mental health. This has contributed to a rise in people needing support with mental health, according to the ONS, especially for younger generations. The government report suggests various factors including social and family relationships, finance, and debt management, as well as employment and job security have all played a role in exacerbating mental health challenges. Today’s cost-of-living crisis has also added additional strain onto many people and financial pressures continue to be influencing poor mental health. With over 2.5 million people out of work currently due to ill health employers must act swiftly and implement measures to address health and wellbeing concerns. The earlier in the process this happens the more likely the right support is delivered to employees before a mental health issue worsens and the individual needs to have long-term sick leave whilst waiting for treatment.

The cost of ill health in the workplace

In the latest HSE statistics on health and safety at work, an estimated cost of £18.8 billion of work-related injury and new cases of ill health in the last monitored year, of which employers (19%) and employees (61%), bear 80% of the cost. Stress, depression, or anxiety account for over 50% of new and long-standing cases of work-related ill health cases. Mental health is a significant contributing factor to this total and over 17.0 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2021/22, over 40% of this was from new cases logged in that year, which highlights the worsening situation.

The power of early intervention

In the government’s report, early access to support was the most important solution to tackling mental health issues effectively, with 81% agreeing its significance.  However, often, employees only access support services when they have reached breaking point, so identifying problems in these early stages is crucial to minimising the repercussions of poor mental health. This is easier said than done as many employees lack confidence in the mental health support provided at work which has resulted in just 34% of staff sourcing support from their workplace. Employers must bridge the gap by proactively and regularly educating the workforce about services they can access or emphasising the benefits available. This then leads to increased uptake of the chosen EAP, helping to prevent instances of mental health crisis before they occur. When employees are aware of the services at their disposal and are encouraged to use them, early intervention becomes a reality, allowing them to bypass NHS services and quickly access sufficient care through work.

Unlocking early intervention with EAP plans

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) hold the key to unlocking earlier intervention and promoting better mental health outcomes. Organisations using health and wellbeing providers who promote quality care can give their employees access to services within five to seven working days at the time of need and can intervene early through other means such as providing employees with a qualified GP helpline than can be accessed at any time. When employees are able to access quality EAP services quicker, they can achieve support before a problem escalates and worsens, therefore leading to better clinical outcomes and less sickness leave. Not-for-profit health and wellbeing provider BHSF success stories show that over 94% of people using its service in 2022 were able to remain in work or to return to work quicker.

A holistic approach

Mental health and wellbeing concerns encompass a wide range of influences from financial management to social relationships to job security, all of which must be addressed comprehensively. EAPs offer a versatile solution providing financial support, employment benefits, and relational and mental support tailored to the individual needs of each workplace. Holistic EAPs include services such as cash plans, debt advice, discount portals, benefits packages, counselling, spousal and dependent support –- and employers should seek an EAP specialising in all aspects of care to help implement a well-rounded wellbeing initiative that truly meets the unique needs of their workforce.

Bespoke wellbeing programmes that engage with the individual employee needs are significantly more effective in improving issues with workplace wellbeing than ‘one-size-fits-all’, short-term strategies. To help employees get the treatment they need within good time, businesses need to not only implement an EAP, but they need to promote it too. EAPs should also be part of a wider mental health and wellbeing strategy to ensure that employees come to work as their mentally healthiest selves, therefore reducing sick leave across the company and maximising productivity.

Ryan Parish
Commercial Data and Insight Manager at BHSF | Website | + posts

Ryan has been working in financial services for nearly 20 years and holds a Certificate in Insurance from the Chartered Insurance Institute. His areas of special interest include data and market movements looking towards the future of insurance and healthcare within the UK.