Healthcare benefits to address depression in the workplace

Nearly one-fifth of adults (19%) in the UK experience anxiety or depression, according to the Office for National Statistics’ Measuring National Wellbeing programme, which published the results of a household survey in June 2013.

Healthcare benefits to address depression in the workplace

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  • One in five adults in the UK experience anxiety or depression.
  • Line manager training and online assessment tools can help employees to manage depression.
  • A support programme to address depression can integrate all healthcare benefits.

This finding, together with the detrimental effect winter can have on employees’ mental wellbeing , means all employers need to consider mental healthcare as an important part of their healthcare strategy.

This is because employees suffering with depression can harm an organisation’s productivity and sickness absence rates, due to the knock-on effect on colleagues and general workplace morale. 

But mental health can be a difficult subject for employers to broach. Anne Payne, co-founder of psychological health consultancy the Validium Group, says: “What does the organisation, HR, and the line manager do as a first intervention point? Often there is very little knowledge and very little confidence.

“It really is about encouraging employees to talk, to avoid making assumptions and to respect the [affected] employee’s confidentiality and the way they feel about this particular illness, particularly if it’s the first episode of depression they’ve had.”

Nevertheless, employers must understand and recognise symptoms of depression among employees, as well as keep lines of communication open with them.

Depression can range from psychological to physical and social symptoms, including tearfulness, anxiety, weight loss or gain, a lack of interest in social activities or hobbies, to more serious symptoms, such as self-harming. 

Doctor Mark Winwood, clinical director for psychological health at Axa PPP Healthcare, says: “One of the most important things is to recognise the role of managers in trying to assist people who might be experiencing problems. We normally ask managers to look out for some of the psychological and physical symptoms, but also some of the social symptoms that can contribute to someone not doing so well.”

Online health assessments

However, staff must also take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing . Employers can provide online resources to help them do this, as well as signposting useful resources.

An online programme often takes the form of a health or stress assessment that can help employees assess trouble spots in their lives. But support must not stop at the assessment, says Doctor Katie Tryon, head of clinical vitality at PruHealth. In addition, there must be an appropriate response, so that if a mental health problem is raised, the employee can access help anonymously.

“Online tools, such as cognitive behaviour therapy tools, have been shown to be very effective,” says Tryon. “The uptake is better if employees don’t feel they have to disclose that they’re receiving help. A lot of employers follow that up with employee assistance programmes (EAPs) .”

Employee assistance programmes

An EAP can support both employees that are struggling in the workplace and those that are off sick. The Validium Group’s Payne says: “It can offer immediate intervention, and within a few days of making the initial call, the individual could be sitting with a counsellor, receiving some support and unravelling what they are tussling with and the impact on them, their families and their colleagues. It is an independent place for somebody to go.”

An EAP can also be a source of training and support for line managers who may have concerns about an employee.

However, staff suffering from clinical depression will need more extensive management and will need to be referred on to other relevant healthcare benefits, if available. 

Axa PPP Healthcare’s Winwood says: “If someone has clinical depression, it is also important that the employer provides access to more extended and comprehensive support. That is where a private medical insurance (PMI) scheme should be able to assist and kick in.

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“If an employer has an EAP that can somehow link in to more extensive PMI cover, or can direct [the employee] towards an area that might have adequate National Health Service cover, then that’s a really good programme of support.

Read also: Buyer’s guide to employee assistance programmes