We are all suffering from COVID fatigue by now. At the time I am writing this it has been over a year since the very first lockdown period, and while vaccinations have been rolled out, there still appears to be no concrete plan as to how we will proceed into the future. What we do know for sure is that the disruptions to our normal lives have been devastating in many circumstances and that there is very little chance that things will return to normal.
One of the biggest issues that is going to arise out of the pandemic is the rapid increase in mental health issues that are present. Quarantining has effected people’s lives in an untold number of ways. Stress created over finances, loneliness, depression, anxiety and personal health are things that will not end with the easing of restrictions. We have seen major increases in drug and alcohol use and self-harming behaviours during the pandemic period. In particular people who felt like their mental health was fair or poor were more likely to have increased use of alcohol or cannabis during the pandemic. Is your benefit plan set up to support the mental health of your employees? More importantly, we know that this is coming. Is your business set up to handle the increase in downtime and lost productivity associated with mental health issues or would you rather be set up to help treat your employees, improve their overall wellness and avoid the downtime?
Take a look, typically a benefit plan includes psychologist and social worker support under the paramedical portion of the plan. These are usually combined and would be subjected to the same limitations (i.e $300-$500 a year max) as the other practitioners. The Ontario Psychological Association Board of Directors has a recommended rate of $225 an hour. What you can see is that it won’t take long to reach the cap on a benefit plan. This means that much of the treatment cost will land outside of the benefit plan and on the employee. The other issue is that the list is restrictive. There are many options for professionals outside of the psychology and social work fields. These simply aren’t covered. Any and all costs associated with treatment by a psychotherapist, for example, will land on the patient.
What can we do about this? It is time to begin to treat mental health issues more seriously. Most estimates put the cost of mental illness in Canada in the billions of dollars when you look at treatment, lost productivity and health-related problems that coincide with mental illness. Redesigning your benefit plan to have a section dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness will allow your employees to more effectively handle issues that arise and could potentially save you large sums of money compared to the alternative.
Benefit plan designs are available to get you in front of the coming wave. It is time to review your plan design to make sure that what you are offering heading into the future has kept up with the changing needs of your employees.