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Working Canadians turning to virtual support as they struggle with mental and financial health


Thursday, October 22, 2020 12:00:00 PM

- Survey shows insurers and employers play a significant role in supporting employee wellbeing. -

While the pandemic continues to affect Canadian businesses, it's clear that employee mental health and overall wellbeing is suffering as they face fears about the transmission of COVID-19, financial uncertainty, and deal with the impacts of long term social isolation. A recent poll by RBC Insurance reveals that 62 per cent of Canadians who are employed, or have recently been laid off, rank their mental health as excellent or good – down from 66 per cent in 2019. What's more, less than half (45 per cent) rank their financial health excellent or good since the pandemic.

While it may seem unsurprising in a tumultuous year that working Canadians feel less mentally well, this shift also conceals an important pattern – respondents who have insurance rate their mental and financial health more positively compared to those with no insurance. The survey found that working Canadians with insurance coverage of any kind (private, group or a combination of both) are more likely to rank their mental health as excellent or good (65 per cent with insurance versus 55 per cent without insurance) and their financial health as excellent or good (48 per cent with insurance versus 36 per cent without insurance).

"As the pandemic increasingly impacts working Canadians' mental health, the survey results point to a greater need for insurers to be there for their clients," said Julie Gaudry, Senior Director of Group Insurance at RBC Insurance. "The negative impacts on mental health is worrisome but workplace benefits and resources such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), wellness programs and virtual care or telemedicine can help support working Canadians wellbeing, including their mental and financial health."

Even more, the survey found that women and younger Canadians (aged 18-34) are the most likely to have seen their mental health negatively impacted. Only 58 per cent of women versus 67 per cent of men would rank their mental health as excellent or good. When it comes to age, half (51 per cent) of younger Canadians would rank their mental health as excellent or good compared to 72 per cent of those who are 55 and older and 60 per cent for those between the ages of 35-54.

Working Canadians show willingness to use virtual tools to support their health

With unexpected financial setbacks resulting from COVID-19, saving money on expenses is a common theme right now. When asked what working Canadians are doing to support their mental health, free options such as talking to friends or family (46 per cent), getting outside or going for a walk (46 per cent), and exercising, yoga or meditation (29 per cent) were the most common. Paid options such as paid app-based support including meditation apps, wellness apps, etc. (3 per cent) were the least likely to be used.

Furthermore, the survey found a sharp increase year over year in the likelihood working Canadians would use virtual care options. More specifically, 67 per cent said they would use video chat, web, or telephone-based health support to consult with a mental health practitioner (+17 points from 2019) and 60 per cent would use video/telephone counselling (+15 points from 2019).

"There's an uptake in the willingness to use virtual care services for mental health challenges among the working population, but such services can come at a cost to employers who themselves are facing financial challenges as a result of COVID-19," said Gaudry. "In an effort to help both plan sponsors and their employees, RBC Insurance recently introduced AbilitiCBT, a therapist assisted online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy program, at no additional cost for the time being to our plan members, so they can get the help they need before they get too sick to work."

How employers can help support employees' overall wellbeing during the pandemic:

- Create and foster a culture that supports employee wellbeing – Promote an open and safe space that destigmatizes mental health challenges so employees feel comfortable asking for the support they need, especially with challenges brought on by remote work, physical distancing and anxiety about returning to work.
- Offer mental health resources to employees – It can be time consuming and costly for employers to find resources on their own. Employers should consult with their insurance advisor on the services that are already in place for employees and to explore adding coverage for mental health practitioners or other additional services. For example, RBC Insurance is offering a broad spectrum of mental health resources to clients including wellness programs, Work-Life EAPs, Virtual Care for mental health challenges (including AbilitiCBT and CarePlus) and Onward by Best Doctors for those who are on disability due to a mental health concern.
- Ensure your employees know how to access additional support – Having resources available to your employees is only worthwhile if they know where and how to access them. Communicate often to your employees about what is available through your insurance provider and how to access it. To support employers with this effort, RBC Insurance introduced new monthly manager mental health training webinars to help employers understand and address heightened mental health risks among employees as a result of the pandemic.

SOURCE: RBC Insurance