UK EAPA welcomes PM’s plans to do more to assist people with mental health conditions
The Prime Minister’s announcement this week of plans to do more to help those with mental health conditions is a move welcomed by the employee assistance industry, says Andrew Kinder, Chair of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association. This is a bold move that underlines the importance of employers and providers working together to promote and protect the mental health of the UK’s workforce.
Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) are a vital element of the solution for the mental health challenges that one in four of us will have to deal with us during our lifetime, and the Government’s announcement this week emphasises the importance of a joined-up solution to deliver mental health services and support.
The role of employers in promoting and supporting good mental health has been discussed widely already by many commentators and is generally accepted as ‘a good thing’ by business. A report from the UK EAPA (2013) estimates that more than half of the UK working population has access to an EAP, signalling employers’ active interest to invest in the tools to support employees when they need support with mental health issues.
HR managers surveyed by UK EAPA also highlight the role EAPs are already playing when it comes to supporting mental health. Respondents to UK EAPA research undertaken in partnership with Lancaster University’s The Work Foundation (2016) reported that the most common use of an EAP is for depression (57%).
In the same study, around half of HR managers said an EAP had been introduced in their organisation as a way to reduce organisational sickness absence with 48% saying its role is to provide staff with support for particular issues such as debt or relationship issues which can be a catalyst to mental health issues such as stress and anxiety.
The PM’s ‘call to action’ this week is a stark reminder that we need to do even more to raise employees’ awareness and take-up of these vital services.
For employers, sickness absence and declining productivity relating to the impact of mental health issues means that organisations need to reply on tried and trusted systems, such as EAPs, that can work in conjunction with HR, OH and other wellbeing specialists.
EAPs have been repeatedly proven to help people identify and cope with the personal or work-related issues that are at the root of their mental health distress and as such can help to reduce sickness absence, improve mental wellbeing and ultimately contribute to the bottom line in terms of organisational productivity.
Yet low-level promotion of EAPs and the scope of services available is thought to be restricting their use for anything other than crises and situations that have already reached a serious stage, which ultimately limits their full value and the effectiveness of the service to the individual and the organisation.
To address this, communication and raising awareness of EAP availability are key, and it seems that organisations agree action needs to be taken. Managers questioned by UK EAPA (2016) say there should be more regular and proactive promotion of the EAP and more prominence in team meetings, not solely through one-off staff inductions, reactively in return-to-work letters or via posters.
EAPs can also help alleviate some of the mental health burden from the NHS, particularly whilst steps are being taken to improve funding for public mental health services.
EAPs are quicker at delivering support for mild to moderate mental health problems and are able to provide the full treatment for many mental health issues, offering a high quality provision that matches and sometimes exceeds that which would be offered via NHS channels. Research undertaken by UK EAPA (2012) in partnership with CORE-IMS indicated the success of EAPs when it comes to engaging with clients and offering speedy interventions – 9 out of 10 EAP clients were accepted for treatment in just nine days of referral which minimises the time employees are required to wait for professional counselling support.
EAPs are also seeing and supporting clinical patients and as such taking some of the pressure off the NHS. 88% of clients presenting to their EAP scored above the clinical cut-off level, highlighting their similarities to NHS outpatients.
A joined-up approach from the HR, employee assistance, occupational health and wellbeing industries to help promote and protect the mental health of the UK’s workforce is something that we need to work towards. It’s only by working together that we can tackle the stigma of mental health, both in society and in the workplace.