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By Jeremy Hainsworth
Jan. 3—Ninety-two percent of U.S. and Canadian organizations report a stressed workforce and 66 percent report a prevalence of depression in their organizations, says the Mental Health and Substance Abuse: 2016 Survey Results from the Wisconsin-based International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.
The report is intended in part to make employers and their HR staffs more aware of the seriousness of the problem.
“The whole importance and scope of mental health challenges is misunderstood in the workplace, and human resources staff and benefits staff need to get a handle on it,” foundation associate vice president of content Julie Stich told Bloomberg BNA.
Of the 344 organizations surveyed, 3 percent reported that their workforces were extremely stressed, 30 percent that they were very stressed and 59 percent that they were somewhat stressed. In the U.S., 94.3 percent of organizations reported a stressed workforce and 60.8 percent reported a prevalence of depression. Eighty-five percent of Canadian organizations reported a stressed workforce and 66 percent a prevalence of depression.
Of employers surveyed, 92.9 percent offer mental health or substance abuse benefits, 98 percent employee assistance programs, 34 percent wellness programs including a mental health/substance abuse component and 14 percent health risk assessments that include mental health or substance abuse questions.
Although Canadian and U.S. results were often similar, some general differences appeared.
Canadian employers, for example, are more likely to offer return-to-work initiatives for employees who have had to take leave for mental health issues, commonly including off- and on-site case management programs, shortened schedules and flexible start and stop times, while U.S. employers are more likely to include mental health and substance abuse questions in health risk assessments, to cover inpatient and outpatient treatment options and to offer extensive services in employee assistance programs, including family and dependent, financial, counseling, caregiving and veteran assistance. U.S. employers also cover a wider range of conditions than Canadian businesses, including adult attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, gambling addictions and eating disorders.
The survey found that EAPs offer a wide range of services including assessments and counseling (91 percent), mental health assistance and counseling (87 percent), referral support (86 percent), substance abuse counseling (85 percent) and crisis hotlines (79 percent). About 8 percent of employers grant EAP access to workers’ family members. Some 52 percent of responding organizations offering EAPs said between 1 percent and 8 percent of employees use EAP services, and more than 7 percent of organizations reported a utilization rate of more than 15 percent.
Another important difference, according to Stich, is that “in Canada you have your provincial health-care systems. Everyone has health care. That isn’t the case in the U.S.”
This means that in the U.S. much of the cost of workplace mental health initiatives is borne by the employer rather than by government. The survey found that on average 13.6 percent of total employer health care expenses are attributable to stress issues.
The report notes that Canada introduced its National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace in 2013. The voluntary standard provides systematic guidelines for employers that will assist them in developing psychologically safe and healthy work environments.
“Specifically, the standard targets understanding of the diverse needs of workplaces, stresses confidentiality, provides education and awareness initiatives and collects data to monitor and measure success,” the report said.
About 11.3 percent of Canadian organizations have adopted the standard, and an additional 25.8 percent are considering it.
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