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Benefit plans can help with mental illness, but many employees are still afraid to use them

Employees with mental-health problems can often rely on workplace benefit plans to take health-restoring short-term or long-term disability leave. — Thinkstock photo

If you’re dealing with a mental illness, everyday tasks can begin to look like insurmountable obstacles.

And if you’re battling stress or anxiety, worries over how to cover your bills if the illness becomes too intense for you to do your job may be enough to push you down that deep, dark hole.

Mental illness is a problem that affects one in five Canadians and that costs $6 billion in lost productivity a year, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada. It’s also reflective of how the workplace has changed.

“Jobs are not as physical anymore. The type of work, the pace of work, the nature of work has changed,” said Marilee Mark, vice-president of market development for group benefits at Sun Life Financial.

“When that changes, you also expect to see some differences in the types of illnesses that we’re going to see in the workplace.”

While insurance companies used to see more claims for back injuries when jobs were more physical, they’re now seeing a higher percentage for mental health, because the jobs are more sedentary, she said.

About 30 per cent of short- and long-term disability claims are now attributed to mental-health problems and illnesses.

If a person is employed, there are provisions under any standard group benefit plan that would cover the need for short-term or long-term disability, regardless of the cause of the illness.

Employee benefit plans don’t distinguish what the cause of the illness is, unless it’s a workplace accident.

“Even before somebody is off work, employers offer a lot of supportive programs for mental illness, whether it’s an employee and family assistance program,” said Mark.

“So that can give you counselling, it could be access to a pharmacy benefit plan, if you need medication or if you need to see a psychologist.”

Some may think that critical illness insurance may be a type they can turn to in this type of situation, but that isn’t a plan currently designed to cover mental health.

Part of the problem, experts say, is that employees don’t always know the benefits are there.

They suggest taking a look at your benefits to see what’s covered and whether there are any resources you can tap into before things get so bad that you need to take time off.

Managers are also being trained to spot the problems and be more accommodating to try to deal with the issue in the early stages, whether it’s a matter of directing the employee to an assistance program to find a psychologist or allowing a day off to regroup.

A much bigger problem, however, is that employees often worry about accessing benefits or making their condition known for fear of being judged.

“I think within the work environment, it has evolved over the past five to six years tremendously,” said Claude Di Stasio, vice-president of Quebec affairs for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association.

“But still for some, maybe the person living it, it’s still a taboo, something that they’re not proud of, because they think everyone else is going to point the finger.”

The stigma persists, because the problem isn’t visible to the naked eye.

“You break a leg, everybody knows. It’s a work accident, everybody knows,” said Di Stasio.

Campaigns by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and Bell’s “Let’s Talk” initiative are working to address these perceptions, but more work still needs to be done.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel. We’re just focusing on something that can be more helpful to ensure these employees remain productive,” she said.

“The scarcity of resources that’s coming makes it so that we need to take care of the good ones, or the ones we have.”

What’s more, if companies don’t help employees remain at work and active, it’s going to cost them a lot more in sick days and lost productivity.

One caution for those working on a part-time basis or on contract, however, is that group benefits often don’t cover these workers, so they’d be wise to think ahead and apply for their own individual life or disability insurance.

These will need to be underwritten, so they will include some kind of assessment, but once you’re signed up, you will have coverage as long as you are paying your premiums.

Regardless of the type of coverage you have, experts agree that what matters is being aware of your options and accessing them early if you think you need to, to prevent having an even bigger problem down the road.

Organizations: Sun Life Financial, Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, Mental Health Commission of Canada and Bell

Geographic location: Canada, Quebec

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Recent comments

  • Another Businessman
    July 09, 2013 - 08:58

    I hold MBAs in entrepreneurship and management. I don't have degrees in English, Social(ist) work, or early childhood education -- that's why I make good money. I have no fear of my workers because they know not to annoy me. If anyone tries to sabotage my business, I will have them arrested and charged. Yes, I do steer clear of potential troublemakers. If someone becomes emotionally unstable, I will find a reason to get rid of them, just as if someone gets pregnant, (why should I pay for them to have a baby?), if someone wants to talk union, if anyone just disrespects me, or has been there long enough to qualify for benefits. There are as many ways to get rid of people as there are people who are willing to work for me.

    • carogers
      July 09, 2013 - 10:47

      To the untouchable Mr. Businessman FYI people just might be driven to going "postal" in response to your attitude got a plan for that. I've insulted you already today will I receive the wrath of your power almighty one?????????? $$$ is your god. Karma will deliver a reality check; not to worry. Everyone gets what they deserve in the end.

    • JJT
      July 09, 2013 - 11:06

      So you "make good money" because you believe that you deserve everything and others deserve nothing. Sounds psychopathic to me. I would imagine that you would fear telling everyone here the name of your business -- your customers might not be so appreciative of your methods.

    • a business man
      July 10, 2013 - 07:04

      Honestly, it is great to see ANOTHER BUSINESSMAN submit his opinion. As an employer, things like aaccomodation, stress leave, and unions are all inconveniences to me that result in less profits. However, there are laws that have to be followed. So, to protect my profits and ensure that I comply with the law, I only hire unskilled uneducated employees for 3 month contracts, and use temp agencies. Employees have no rights until after 3 months, and with temp agencies, the agency is the employer, not me. Furthermore, I never keep a temp for more than 3 months to make it less likely than a court would determine that I am the employer. In either case, the job ends in 3 months regardless of disability, pregnancy, stress, or whatever. I have no problem with pregnancy leave because I am not paying the maternity leave (the government). I do have a problem with being obligated to have a job waiting for someone on pregnancy leave because I want the freedom to permantly hire someone better or more productive. This is how I treat my unskilled workers. As far as I am concerned, they are disposable, for no reason other than being unskilled, uneducated and easily replacable. They are just not worth much. and therefore should not be retained to the point at which the employer takes on additional obligations. it is more efficient to hire new people and reset the tenure of the workers. When it comes to skilled workers, I treat them differently because they are not worthless. On of my executives is on maternity leave. Her job is guaranteed when she returns. I am topping up her maternity pay so that she gets her full earnings while off, her health plan is active while on maternity leave, and I am paying for her (out of my pocket) for her to have an extra month with her new child. Another skilled and educated workers has stress issues. To accomodate him, I set up a fully furnished home office and give time off for medical appointments whenever he wants. Both are valuable employees, so my accomodations to them are intented to ensure they are retained. When it comes to the unskilled uneducated workers, I do not want to retain them. I want them to leave. So I dispose of them when appropraite. My businesses exist for the sole purposes of profit.

  • Ranter
    July 09, 2013 - 05:33

    Sounds like the Newfoundland attitude is alive and well - it's all about themselves, screw the next guy, I have to get ahead at all costs. Keeping resumes on your desk to scare employees is counter to their ability to move on and leave you hanging with no experienced staff. Your a bright MBA. SOunds more like you blow your own horn, but likely cannot get people to work for you Certainly if they appear or act more intelligent than you Businessman, then you feel threatened. Too bad you never told us what your business is so we can all avoid it.

  • Booens
    July 08, 2013 - 12:09

    "I have an two MBAs from two very prestigous universities. My employees are free to leave at any time if they feet they don't want to work for me. I do keep them on notice that there are plenty of people who would gladly fill their jobs and I keep on display an ever-increasing pile of applications to remind them." Mallarky. Anyone who has an MBA knows that you don't get two of them. Just because you're unemployed and sitting in your basement in Paradise doesn't mean that you can play make believe. Employers take mental health seriously. Nobody wants to be sued for something that could be considered a disability. Nobody around here wants to piss off employees and push them to unionize either. At the end of the day, creating a positive work environment means less sick time, fewer employee turnover and thus a better customer experience. There are a few people here who actually work in the business world and don't play make believe.

  • Another Buisness Man
    July 08, 2013 - 11:01

    I have an two MBAs from two very prestigous universities. My employees are free to leave at any time if they feet they don't want to work for me. I do keep them on notice that there are plenty of people who would gladly fill their jobs and I keep on display an ever-increasing pile of applications to remind them.

    • WOW
      July 08, 2013 - 14:43

      Did you ever think of what they may do before they leave? I heard stories of computer guys that set up the system and then sat around doing nothing. Treat them wrong once and they push a button, all your data is lost.. With high turnover, you lose experience. Any new employees will quickly discover it is not a place to stay so you may start losing things. Are you sure you have a MBA??? If yes, that still doesn't mean you know how to deal with people, as it appears you don't.

    • Brad
      July 09, 2013 - 05:48

      1. You do not get two MBAs. 2. Your spelling and grammar skills are lacking. Therefore, you are just another mad person sitting in mommy & daddy's basement. I call BS on your statement.

    • carogers
      July 09, 2013 - 07:49

      BOOENS AND ANOTHER BUSINESS MAN...First question: Why is your post here twice under two different names. They didn't have computers when you got your two MBA's. Got all excited and wrote twice?? Secondly Did you learn this blackmail attempt from university or is this your sick way of keeping staff inline?? Really must have young impressionable people working there who think their livelihood is held in your hands. No stress there! The article was about staff being afraid to use benefits for MENTAL HEALTH reasons!!! Why not just wallpaper one wall with "this is the person who will take your job if you piss me off'! Oh great and mighty boss man. Your just another well educated bully who likes to see people squirm. And your so proud of it, that MBA program didn't include reading comprehension, since the article was not about who wants to be a hard nose. I would laugh in your face and walk on the day you least expect it. That's right no notice just wait until the @#4% was hitting the fan and WALK OUT. Not everyone is young and burdened with debt. Some actually have their student loans paid or didn't have to get one in the first place; no mortgage because that is paid in full too. Some people don't need to serve on their knees to an arrogant ass like you. Oh, and your staff will leave soon as they can get some perspective and a little maturity to realize there are other employers who will respect them as human beings first. The old NL attitude of "your lucky to have a job" mentally is apparently still your mantra.

    • JJT
      July 09, 2013 - 08:22

      Two MBAs and can't even spell "business"? I think not.

  • MudderL
    July 08, 2013 - 10:47

    Wow, some harsh comments here from Employers. I guess education is not a pre-qualifier for success. I would think they would value their employees more than that, and if they don't they're not worth working for, the door swings both ways.

  • KD
    July 08, 2013 - 10:12

    James, Another Businessman, TJ, and Doug have a little compassion. Maybe someday you will have a mental illness and looking for compassion and understanding from your employers, clients and colleagues.

    • carogers
      July 09, 2013 - 08:03

      KD They do have a mental illness...to be so callus...there is something wrong with them. These are the type who cause the mental health problems. Just imagine with an attitude like that what the family life must be like? If he is bullying staff you can bet the wife and kids( or gay partner) are also on the receiving end of bad behaviour. Then we all have to deal with his kids who are raised thinking this is normal male behaviour. The cycle continues. The reason you see this type of attitude here in NL is the phone doesn't ring at the gov agencies that handle harassment and poor working conditions. This is a two way street but the agencies cannot address situations they do not know about. As a Canadian you have rights exercise them.

  • James
    July 08, 2013 - 09:34

    I rarely hire full time employees. Basically you are laid off at the end of each shift. My full time employees are on contract - for a specific period of time. You are hired to do a job. If being absent from work prevents them in job productivity then they are gone. As a business person I am interested in the bottom line. I reward good productivity with above average pay and bonus.

    • a business man
      July 08, 2013 - 19:43

      Great post. I never hire full time employees for many of my businesses. In all cases of people doing unskilled work. I hire people for 3 month terms, and then I hire new people. I never keep the same people because then they are entited to rights. Everyone is contract, except the management, and the friends and family that I have hired. I use a revolving door approach to have a flexible workforce. I am only interested in my bottom line too. Furthermore, I will have the right to terminate someone's contract at anytime, so if someone comes along who is better, then the lesser employee is terminated. This has happens more often in the summer because many students are available for work and are better than the adult workers and more flexible regarding scheduling. Frankly, when dealing with unskilled workers, there is no reason to take on the obligations entailed with having full time employees. Temp workers and short term workers are perfect for plugging and playing like cheap tools.

    • MudderL
      July 08, 2013 - 22:35

      James, as you said "If being absent from work prevents them in job productivity then they are gone", I have to ask, what do you do when an employee becomes pregnant, or do you discriminate against women of child bearing age by steering clear of them in the first place?

  • WOW
    July 08, 2013 - 08:01

    It must be a real joy to work for you, minimum wage I assume, so you can keep the gas in your Vette.

    • a business man
      July 08, 2013 - 19:46

      Minimum wage is only for workers who are not worth more. In my opinion, and in my companies, anyone without a post-secondary education gets minimum wage for life with no benefits. if they dont like it, they can go somewhere better. Most of the time, they cannot get more, so they stay. Those who can get more leave, and I wish them well. I can afford to may double, even triple, but I chose not to because there is no reason to. If I really needed the workers, if I couldn't find replacements effortlessly, then I would pay more. But I get resumes every day from people willing to work for minimum wage, so I would be a fool to pay more.

    • JJT
      July 09, 2013 - 08:27

      I'd love to know what "your companies" are so I could avoid them like the plague.

  • ANother buisnessman
    July 08, 2013 - 07:46

    If one of my employees starts acting a little weird, they're gone. I don't need the liability and if they start whining about "accommodation," they can go to Holiday Inn. I'm in business to make money, not mollycoddle a bunch of babies.

    • TJ
      July 08, 2013 - 08:21

      Bout time, people need to stop making excuses and start working. Stress? everyone has it, you need to learn to deal with it on your own level. Bottom line, you dont work, you shouldn't get paid

    • Doug
      July 08, 2013 - 09:44

      And you shoulden't be entitled welfare or EI either.