Meeting the mental health needs of a multi-generation workforce in the digital age: An insurer’s perspective

by: Rebecca Smith, Director, Group Life & Disability Services, Medavie Blue Cross

Insurers are major architects in building mentally healthy workplaces in Canada. The products and services we provide to 70 per cent of Canadians are foundational pillars to individual and collective wellbeing nation-wide. 1

The need for mental health supports has never been greater, with utilization of benefits to treat psychological disorders at an all-time high.
Approximately one in five members of the working-age population in Canada is now living with a mental health issue at a cost to the Canadian economy of over $50 billion annually.2

The rise in mental health claims is intersecting with other major trends like the shift in workforce demographics, the digitization of the workplace and maturing consumerism.

We have, for the first time in our history, five generations working side-by-side in the workplace. Their health benefit needs are as diverse as their life experiences – and seldom do they overlap.

The impacts of a multi-generation workforce range from increased spending on extended health care benefits and a rising demand for mental health resources – especially among the younger generations who are experiencing higher levels of anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide than their older colleagues. Millennials make up the largest of these generations and by 2020 will comprise 50 per cent of Canada’s workforce.3

Millennials are also highly-connected consumers, meaning they expect the same 24/7, on-demand, high value service from their health insurers as they receive from other industries. Think Amazon, Airbnb, Uber and Netflix. As one industry analyst put it, we’re moving from saying “the doctor will see you now” to “the patient will see you now.”

Together, these trends have placed our industry at a critical juncture, pointing to the need – and the opportunity – to reframe our thinking when it comes to the design and delivery of mental health benefits in the digital age.
In helping to build psychologically safe and healthy workplaces, we as health insurers need to take a cross-generational approach that leverages new technologies to connect plan members with licensed mental health professionals – anywhere, anytime. In short, we have to provide mental health care on “new” terms.

Meeting the evolving mental health needs of the modern workforce requires benefit plans that offer:
    · More personalized and simplified services
    · Increased flexibility
    · Greater transparency
    · Self-service options
    · A seamless end-to-end experience that adds value at each touchpoint

These features can be found in innovative solutions like:
    · Digital psychotherapy
    · Virtual doctor consultations
    · Mobile apps dedicated to mental health self-care
    · Drug adherence notifications on mobile apps

Embracing virtual care can help remove barriers to treatment that is preventing 60 per cent of Canadians from seeking professional help, giving them easier, faster access to expert health care – and helping them to return to health and to work sooner.4

As insurers, we have a variety of tools in our toolbox to support workplace mental health; from employee assistance programs to web-based health portals. Increasing benefit maximums, broadening the eligibility of service providers and adding next generation tools like internet-enabled cognitive behavioural therapy (iCBT), telemedicine and pharmacogenetics testing, will only improve the efficiency and efficacy of mental health care.

According to the World Health Organization, for every $1 put into the treatment of common mental health conditions, there’s a return of $4.80 in improved health and productivity. It’s just one of many stats that show investing in mental health makes sound business sense. It’s also the right thing for us as health insurers to do.

1CLHIA Facts 2018 Edition
2 2018 Canadian Mental Health Association Impact Report
3 Mental Health Commission of Canada
4 Benefits Canada, September 2019